So a committee led by a lawyer/investment banker/businessman recently recommended this to the Federal government:
Now, of course there's the arbitrary Hattie Industries™ BS in there (One year's growth? Growth in what? Everything? Does one year's growth for an IM student look the same as one year's growth for a student in an opportunity class? What does one year's growth for a kid direct from Syria and dealing with psychological trauma look like, compared to a kid from Mosman with millionaire parents and a private tutor? Oh, the questions I have!). But the main gist of it is that teaching and learning will be driven by kids moving along a "defined learning progression".
Now, men in suits think this is a fabulous idea. Politicians love it, because it allows them to sell something to parents/voters that makes them think their unique and beautiful snowflakes will be nurtured individually with bespoke programs that cultivate their individual gifts and talents (apparently we don't already do this). It also ticks all the boxes for ex-pollies-turned-education-experts, academics and policy twonks, because it aligns so nicely with pie-in-the-sky motherhood (fatherhood?) statements about education written by people who don't teach.
However, most people working in an actual classroom (unless they're a Stepford teacher trying to scramble up the ladder) have either laughed or cried at the suggestion (and let's be honest, the Stepford ones are probably doing that beneath their Shiny Happy People veneers).
And in a case of "here's one we prepared earlier", ACARA already has the Literacy and Numeracy Progressions ready to go.
Now, I won't even pretend that the following blergle is cogent. Partly, because my brain is too fuzzy from frustration, anger, despair and disbelief that it makes it impossible to cobble together something that makes sense right now. And partly because the more I investigate things, the more it starts to resemble how my class set of headphones look by the end of the term. But this stuff is buzzing around inside my head and I need to exorcise it, so here goes.
The Progressions make sense in the context of the Australian Curriculum
The idea of using the Progressions to support the Australian Curriculum is completely logical. The Australian Curriculum has a set of standards, and a tiny number of elaborations, which describe what should be covered, rather than providing detailed analysis of skill development. For example:
When you consider the additional support that the Progressions will provide to teachers in this context, the Progressions make sense. They give more detail in terms of what the kids should actually be able to do.
If I were to make a criticism of this, I'd say that the Progressions should be embedded in the Curriculum rather than in separate documents. Teachers don't have time for cross referencing.
Also, if you're going to have a grade-based curriculum, ensure the "progression" of learning matches that. Then teachers simply have to head to previous/later grades to differentiate for their students. I mean, it's not like they've taken that factors and multiples content and splintered it completely into micro-skills to support teachers with scaffolding - the progressions are generally aligned to a grade, but some blur across grades, e.g. Year 2/3, then just Year 3. If you're so certain that students develop in this linear manner, then this should be what drives the curriculum design and it should be embedded in the standards and elaborations.
Ditch the grade allocations if you really want to. There's a push by the kumbaya crowd to do away with bunching kids into grades, so sequence the curriculum as a progression of "units" and have grade levels attached as a "suggested" alignment. The old blue and white 1989 NSW Maths syllabus did this - skill and knowledge development was sequenced into "units", with a suggestion of grades that the units would most likely be taught in. I'm too young (oh, it's nice to type that!) to know how this worked in practice, but the framework is sound.
Why the Progressions make no sense in a NSW context
In NSW, we have a syllabus filled with bloatware. In the current Maths syllabus, we have ~550 content markers in Stage 3, compared with ~290 in the previous syllabus. The upside of this is that concept development is clearly mapped out (in maths, anyway. Don't get me started on English). It's got a fair bit of fat in it that I argue could be trimmed, and I reckon it could have been designed a little more logically to support assessment and reporting, but overall, it sequences micro-skills nicely, for teachers who are bothered to read/engage with it.
Here are the same factors and multiples concepts from the Australian Curriculum, addressed in the NSW syllabus under Stage 3 Whole Numbers Part 1:
As you can see, there's much more detail here. There's a clear expectation of what the kids should be able to do, and the content markers are observable and measurable (mostly).
The problem we have is that now we're expected to measure kids against these standards as well as the Progression markers.
Let's see what that will look like.
The bottom of the NSW syllabus page helpfully (!) tells me where all of the content from Whole Numbers Part 1 can be found in the Numeracy Progression. Now, I'm not told which Progression strand I'll find the factors and multiples content in, but because I'm a trained professional, I'll take a stab and head over to the Multiplicative Strategies section.
So now I've jumped across to the Numeracy Progression and into the Multiplicative Strategies strands referenced by the NSW Syllabus (because who doesn't love juggling multiple documents?). Just for a bit of fun, I've switched on the "Additional Info" bits to see which grades ACARA has aligned these progression markers to.
Year 2 and 3?
So if my students in Year 5 are covering the factors and multiples content, I'm meant to be aligning them with skills in the Progressions that should be consolidated in Years 2 and 3?
There's no mention of lowest common multiple or highest common factor. In fact, it feels like the links are quite tenuous between the two. Not to mention that the Progressions are expecting Year 2 kids to refer to "factors" - which isn't mentioned in the Australian Curriculum until Year 5, and in the NSW syllabus in Stage 2 Part 2 (so...year 4). Something's not right here.
Now, from what I've heard from the NSW professional learning sessions about the Progressions (the secret squirrel you-can't-have-access-to-materials-unless-you-attend ones) we're being told "THE PROGRESSIONS AREN'T ALIGNED TO GRADES! DON'T TRY AND ALIGN THE PROGRESSIONS TO GRADES!". Except, the NSW Syllabus is based on the Australian Curriculum, and the Progressions have been aligned to the Australian Curriculum. So if they don't align, someone has screwed up somewhere.
Dear Upperlings: Please stop making me want to gnaw off my own head
I guess the message I'm trying to get across is that this document adds nothing of value to NSW teachers. Instead, it adds another layer of complexity and chaos. It makes teachers have to juggle multiple documents (when we already have one that is pretty detailed and provides the capacity for teachers to differentiate) and multiple targets, which aren't always aligned.
Add to this the onerous inputting of data, and you're eating up time that's better spent developing a shared understanding of our mandatory document (the syllabus) and preparing lessons and resources so that we can actually provide more individualised learning for our kids.
The bird's eye view of the Progressions probably looks pretty good. I can see how it's an attractive premise to people who don't have to actually implement it. But an interim slow down of implementation isn't going to be enough.
I see us having two options.
1. NSW ditches the progressions altogether, and gets back to developing a deep understanding of our syllabus, creating useful support documentation and building strong differentiation and assessment practices based on it.
2. Ditch our NSW syllabus and run solely with the Australian Curriculum and Progressions and be part of the national conversation and collaboration.
I see merits in either approach. But the idea of running with both is just ridiculous, and teachers need to unite and say no.
This term, I've been trialling "Free Range Fridays" with my class. This basically means that they can choose learning that interests them, either individually, or with a partner/group. I've tried to encourage exploration of technology like Makey Makeys and Spheros etc, but as it's free range, they are able engage in any kind of personal pursuit - research, making etc.
It's not really Genius Hour or a Passion Project or any other of those innovative practices that come with a how-to guide. At this stage, I don't want to lock kids into the idea of having to have an end product or something to 'share' at the end, but rather encourage the idea of exploration, dabbling and trial and error. Funnily enough, there is a lot of informal sharing that's occurring anyway, and I'll often see kids having a sticky beak at each other's work and asking them questions about it, discussing future directions and providing supportive feedback. It feels a lot more organic than some "let's all sit and listen to Johnny's presentation" situation.
They can stick with a project for a few weeks or try something new each week, and although I've provided some suggestions (because you don't know what you don't know, and you need a spark to ignite a fire), the kids themselves are now starting to generate their own project ideas.
So far we've had kids working on Minecraft projects, building model houses, developing the best recipes for playdough and soap clay (with a view to producing and marketing a product to raise funds for a charity), constructing a model solar system, creating interactive posters with the Makey Makeys and programming bots. One of the most satisfying projects has been a student who is normally quite difficult to engage in literacy activities, choosing to spend his time researching a topic of personal interest to him. He's the first one to grab all his research materials and get set up each week - a stark difference to regular "caged hen" learning.
They have grouped themselves flexibly, and I've been surprised to see some kids working together who aren't in the same social group, but who have connected over a shared interest.
They get this time because we have a "wasted" hour where a bunch of kids are off at inter-school sport, so it's impossible to teach any whole class stuff in that time.
I put "wasted" in quotes, because in many ways it feels like my richest teaching hour of the week. There is 100% engagement, I get to have meaningful conversations with my students as humans, rather than feeling like I'm just a data gathering robot. Plus there's a lot more buy-in from the kids because it's self-directed.
But I also use the term wasted because let's face it, we do have an overstuffed curriculum, and with all the interruptions in a teaching week, there really aren't enough hours to get through it all in a deep and meaningful way.
So in terms of "ticking boxes", this feels like a wasted hour. But in terms of actual teaching and learning and enriching the lives of little learners? It's the best.
Having said that, as much as it often drives me bonkers at times, the syllabus does contain essential skills and knowledge that are necessary for the kids to get a handle on. Completely free range learning doesn't sit well with me either, because imagine a life where you only ever learnt about stuff you were interested in? What a narrow worldview you'd have. The hard stuff, the icky stuff, the stuff that bores you to tears is often necessary to ensure you've got enough dots to connect.
This conundrum, however, has got me thinking. Surely there's a happy medium here somewhere? How can I strike a happy balance between free-range learning and the tick-a-box culture of schools? I wonder if there's a way for making the syllabus kid-friendly and explicitly working through the requirements with my kids and getting them to self-select activities that can demonstrate aspects of it?
For example, I've got a small group of kids who have been working on a solar system model, based on personal interest. They've brought in their own materials and have been diligently working on it for a couple of weeks. In the Stage 3 Scitech syllabus, there is an outcome/content about the solar system. Seeing that the kids are interested in this topic, I should be able to sit them down and go through what the syllabus says is expected in Stage 3, and negotiate some ways that they might be able to show me that they've met the particular outcome. I can then meet up for conferences with them over the course of a few weeks, providing feedback to guide/extend/remediate and gather reportable assessment data on that outcome.
The problem with this approach, of course, is that I'd be juggling 30 individual projects. And next year, those 30 kids will go off to other teachers, so under current schooling practices there is no way of ensuring that all kids cover all outcomes - hence why we need scope and sequences and rigidly time-marked units of work.
But in an ideal world, it'd be great to have some kind of digitised system containing child-friendly achievement standards or content markers, where it's recorded that kids have demonstrated them. We're made to endure godawful PLAN software to input data on a flawed literacy continuum, so it's surely not too far a leap for this kind of approach?
Last week I handed out a note to my kids telling them about Education Week.
"What's this, Miss?" someone asked.
I explained that it was a note for Education Week, and that we'd be having a special "Education Day" during the week to celebrate public education.
"Education Day?" someone asked, with crunchy eyebrows. "Isn't that EVERY day?".
I couldn't fault their logic. Education day IS every day. Even when they're not at school.
But anyway, I moved beyond the philosophy and semantics, and headed back towards pragmatism. I still ended up at why DO we have Education Week?
I know this makes me sound like the Grinch. I know that it makes me sound like I'm not part of #teameducation. But I also think it's a valid question.
Now, I'm not against the idea of celebrating public education. I think it's a great idea. Seeing the awesome things our public schools manage to do (on shoestring budgets) is a worthwhile cause, and I love seeing the tweets and hearing the stories.
But I do question the timing and authenticity.
For starters, it's plonked inconveniently in Week 3. Generally, you're just beginning to get into the meaty bit of teaching and learning, but you've not yet reached a point where you're ready to showcase anything. So you have this random event that interrupts a session/day/week just so people in suits can have a moment of warm fuzziness. You often engage in some random activity that isn't linked to anything you're teaching, which further reduces the small amount of time that you actually have to teach what you're supposed to be teaching.
Why not move it towards the end of a term, when you've got a bunch of stuff that's hot off the learning press that kids can proudly showcase to parents and the community?
Better still, why not have it towards the end of the year (but before the crazy sets in)? It's generally a reflective time, and communal "look back" at the achievements of schools over the year would be a great way to celebrate public education.
Next, is the issue of authenticity. We have neat little assemblies and model lessons and we invite parents in to spectate. Does this have to be so artificial? Shouldn't we be designing teaching and learning experiences that consider how parents can be involved, all the time? Shouldn't we be sharing the learning online so parents have a window into the classroom? Why does there have to be one neatly boxed week, or a neatly boxed day, with a neatly boxed plan?
Anyway, I never used to be such a grizzler about these things, and I wonder if it's simply the case that there's so much to teach these days, and not enough time to do it all, so all the 'random' stuff is really starting to get my goat. Or, maybe I'm just getting old. :P
Our school is doing the new Focus on Reading which, by all accounts so far, appears to be much the same as the old Focus on Reading which, as a newbie to it all, sorta sounds like what we've always done, but with fancy names, posters, PowerPoint presentations that don't quite work and a price tag. But I digress...
Anyway, we haven't really done much so far, but one thing that our awesome FoR facilitator has done (and I'm not sure if it's her brainchild or part of the FoR thing) is conduct a reading survey with our kids to get some info about their reading preferences and behaviours.
We need to analyse this data for a TPL session this week and as I'm always one to go a bridge too far, I thought I'd blog about some salient findings.
Phew! My Reading Approach Fits the Bill
This is my first year teaching Stage 3, so while I feel pretty confident teaching early years reading, I'm still finding my feet with the best way to approach reading in the older grades.
I started off from the position that reading can begin to seem really dull at this age if someone is shoving a book in your face that you're really not interested in reading, so I wanted to give kids choice and foster a lifelong love of reading. So a big chunk of my reading program involves independent silent reading, where kids choose their own books and engage in sustained reading.
We've done work on choosing good fit books, and discussed the importance of a balanced reading diet. The kids need to journal their reading (how they do it is up to them - summaries, pictures, reviews, or any other response that they can argue a case for) but after recently reading how reading logs can ruin reading, I'm thinking long and hard about whether or not I need to change that approach.
Anyway, the good news is that this approach seems to work for my kids. According to the survey, most of my kids like or really like reading by themselves and silent reading. Interestingly, the kids who don't like these reading approaches seem to be the kids that crave (read: generate) lots of noise in class. I'm curious to see if they would respond better to audiobooks.
Not Fans of Public Displays of Reading
The kids really dont like reading in a large group. I totally get this - as a kid who was a good reader, it was so painful to be reading quickly in your head, but having to wait for the struggling reader to drag themselves through challenging text. I imagine they didn't like it too much, either.
Reading in a small group fared slightly better, but they're still not entirely sold on the idea. Yet more of them were ok with reading out loud in general.
One concern I have with this data set is: Do the kids feel this way simply because that's the way they feel, or is there something about my classroom culture that's making them feel this way? Does my classroom need to be more supportive in some way?
I'm looking forward to seeing the data from other classrooms and also have a conversation with my kids about this.
Someone else doing all the work?
These two provided interesting results.
I would have predicted results similar to this, perhaps with a few more "I don't likes", however
in the lead up, our FoR facilitator was talking about how previous surveys she'd conducted revealed that older kids like being read to. So I kind of expected these results to be a little different.
Still, half the class likes or really likes the teacher reading to them, which surprises me, given how I feel like I'm boring them to tears when I do it, even with my most expressive and dramatic shenanigans.
For what purpose?
This batch of questions sought to determine how much the kids like reading for various purposes.
"Reading for enjoyment and fun" absolutely killed it - and I'm really excited by that result! But I'm curious about the other questions - I wonder if they are truly making the connection between the range of texts they're using every day and the purpose of those texts?
These are kids that I know would happily spend hours reading Minecraft how-to guides - I don't think they connect that with the types of procedural texts mentioned under "Reading to do a task".
The implication for this is that I really need to integrate more authentic texts into my teaching and make those explicit connections to the textual purpose. I think part of the problem here is that at our school we spend a term focusing on a particular type of text (e.g. Term 2 is persuasive texts, Term 3 is informative etc.) so although "mixing it up" happens incidentally, there's no teaching time dedicated to having a need for a text and working out which sort of text is going to fit that need best. My kids are great at identifying the purpose of a text in isolation (e.g. when we're learning about persuasive texts, they can say "Hey, this is a persuasive text.") but not so good at generalising this knowledge in a real world context.
Other questions I have
If I were to do this again, I'd be really curious to pop a few more questions in.
The survey also gathered some qualitative data, and that was really interesting to read. I was blown away by how articulate some of my kids were around their thoughts on reading - I had expected them to trot out what they thought we'd want to hear, but there were some really fantastic, personal, grown-up reflections amongst them.
In light of such responses, I'm keen to "let go" a bit and start having more discussions with the kids about what they want reading instruction to be like in our classroom. What they need to learn will still rely on the syllabus, a shared understanding of skill development and professional teachery guidance, but I want to hand over the reins and let them direct the how a bit more.
I'll begin this post with a big THANK YOU to the people who responded to my survey. :)
The results of the survey can be found here, so click away, draw your own conclusions or use it to start your own conversations. But should you want to be bored to death by my commentary on the results, read on...
As I mentioned in a post back in March, maths programming and assessment has been doing my head in a bit lately, largely due to an overwhelming amount of content. In that post, I also alluded to discussions I'd had with colleagues at various schools, and how it seemed everyone had a different take on syllabus implementation and how some of us were feeling overwhelmed. I've been feeling that it shouldn't be this difficult, and though I've been trying to adopt the mantra of "Let It Go", it's hard to do when angst and frustration is continually poking you.
My school uses the Continuum of Key Ideas in its scope and sequence and rubrics for assessment, and collegially there's not much delving into the syllabus beyond that. We also assess at a stage level, so Year 5 and Year 6 are assessed using the same criteria, as we have a stage-based syllabus. Conversations with colleagues at other schools showed me that not everyone was taking the same approach - some were working with grade-based scope and sequences and others were assessing against the content markers etc. There were also debates about how the content was supposed to be used - some people argued that the content was mandatory in order to meet the outcome, others argued that only the outcomes were mandatory and the content was just there to dip into when needed and others were just confused because they'd heard different things. In short, it appeared that confusion reigned supreme. I found this strange, because surely the goal of a syllabus is to ensure some level of consistency within a system? Why was there such variation?
So I sought clarification from BOSTES and was referred to this section of the syllabus:
"The content describes in more detail how the outcomes are to be interpreted and used, and the intended learning appropriate for the stage. In considering the intended learning, teachers will make decisions about the sequence, the emphasis to be given to particular areas of content, and any adjustments required based on the needs, interests and abilities of their students. The knowledge, understanding and skills described in the outcomes and content provide a sound basis for students to successfully move to the next stage of learning."
Additional advice was given stating that "it is not appropriate for teachers or schools to disregard content in relation to any outcome or outcomes" and "it would be expected that syllabus outcomes drive teaching and learning and the associated assessment. It is the outcomes that are mandatory and each outcome is required to be addressed."
My brain was still itchy, because much of the advice I was receiving was from people who weren't using this document to actually teach, assess and report on children, so I decided to put together a little survey to gather some data on the variety of ways that schools were approaching the implementation of the maths syllabus. I shared it on Twitter, Yammer and some Facebook groups. It was a small sample size (46) and I have no way to measure the validity of responses, so it's obviously not the most reliable data! But it does provide an interesting snapshot and possibly a starting point for discussions about syllabus implementation.
Scope and Sequences
This was an interesting one. Most people seem to have gone with grade-based scope and sequences by using the Part 1 and Part 2 content markers - a very systematic and explicit approach that scratches my perfectionist itch - but I do wonder how they get through it all! I imagine it's achieved through a clever alignment of content.
The second highest response appears to be almost a completely opposite, laissez-faire approach - simply sequencing the outcomes over one year and allowing teachers to use the content as they see fit, to meet the needs of their class. I love the flexibility of this approach, but do wonder how they keep track of the content that they cover with a given cohort over two years.
Interestingly, the next highest response was that the school didn't have a scope and sequence (yet?). I'd be curious to know if they're still being developed or if teachers have just been given free rein to cover concepts as needed.
Results in the "other" category included that the school was currently reworking their scope and sequence, and an interesting approach of having three cross-term "cycles" during the year with earlier content covered in the earlier cycles and later content covered in the later cycles. I'd really like to see that format and look at how they've decided to sequence concepts!
I find this one really interesting, particularly in relation to the prior question. I'd predicted that the figures for the last question would have matched up pretty closely with the results in this question, because we assess what we teach. For example, I'd have thought that schools sequencing content markers in their scope and sequence would have been more likely to have used a content marker checklist and assess students against it (and four respondents do use this approach).
Interestingly though, six of the schools that sequence content markers into separate Year 5 and Year 6 scope and sequences then assess students using the outcome. I'm curious as to how this works in practice, given that the outcome often includes reference to the later stage content, which wouldn't be covered in a scope and sequence separated into grades.
For example, the outcome for Stage 3 Fractions and Decimals is "compares, orders and calculates with fractions, decimals and percentages". This is impossible to achieve unless you cover the Part 2 (later stage) content. I'd love to learn more about how this approach works in the real world.
I popped this question in because throughout my career I've had different advice from different people. When working in special ed, I was told both that we should work towards lower stage outcomes if the kids needed it (makes sense to me!), and also that we weren't allowed to have students working towards lower stage outcomes - that we just needed to adjust the way we worked towards the current stage outcome. I've also had differing advice about dipping into content one stage ahead for G&T students.
The syllabus lists these three curriculum options for students with special needs:
So it seems pretty clear that it's ok to go above or below stage outcomes if needed, yet my anecdotal evidence and results from the survey indicate that this message has not been universally received.
Fitting it all in
I included this question as a bit of a sanity check for myself. In case you hadn't noticed, sometimes I analyse things too much and get a bit obsessed with details. :) So I thought that perhaps it was just me doing my weirdo thing. But thankfully there are at least 13 other people out there who are feeling the same way! Phew! :) (Perhaps we need to start some kind of support group?!).
I wanted to find out the secret to success for the lucky/talented 10 people who felt that they were covering the syllabus requirements "very well", so I fossicked around in the data. These respondents have scope and sequences that either (a) sequence outcomes only or (b) sequence content markers in separate Year 5 and Year 6 documents. One of the "very well" respondents has no scope and sequence.
The Last Word
I suppose the purpose of this survey was to satiate my curiosity about the stuff I'd been hearing anecdotally, and it achieved that. It wasn't really meant to serve any purpose beyond that.
Schools should have the flexibility to do things in ways that suit their context, but I also feel that there needs to be a certain level of consistency within the system, and a clear and universal understanding of expectations. I find it strange that some schools purely target outcomes, while others meticulously work through each and every content marker - are there implications for educational equity here? I also find it concerning that five respondents said that their teams don't look at/discuss the syllabus content when planning - the syllabus clearly maps out the conceptual development and it was structured and approved by people who know their stuff (or so I'm told) - we should use it!
I also can't help but wonder if the nature of maths - in terms of conceptual development and conceptual links between sub-strands - lends itself to limited variation in terms of scope and sequences? Surely there's only a certain number of ways that concepts can be built up and connected? It feels like it's a jigsaw puzzle, with all the pieces jumbled up in the document, just waiting to be slotted together perfectly. I wonder if any schools out there have already pieced together this puzzle?
Finally, I know that I'm probably overthinking it all. As I sit here at the end of this post, I am asking myself "why and when did I become this boring person who sits around analysing syllabus implementation?". Deep down, I'm a go-with-the-flow kinda gal who would rather not carry on about this stuff, but there are so many "paradigm shifts" and so much "box-ticking" these days that it's hard not to sweat the small stuff. I feel like I'm wearing an itchy jumper that doesn't quite fit right.
I'm not really sure how I'm going to go about making that itchy jumper more comfortable, but if you have any ideas, please let me know. :)
I'd be a rich person if I had a dollar for every time I've sat through a PL session and been told "most of the jobs that our students will have, probably don't exist right now". In the early days, I sat there goggle-eyed like every body else, panicking about how I'm not doing enough to futureproof my students and frantically searching for ways to change my pedagogy to cater for this paradigm shift.
Well, I've paddled down that stream a while, and now I've kinda got crunchy eyebrows because I think it's a lot of huff and puff (possibly to sell books or secure speaking engagements) about what's simply an element of the human condition.
I mean, there are plenty of jobs around now that weren't even dreamed about when I was a kid. Same as kids who went to school in 1950. Or 1850. Isn't it the nature of the beast? Human society and technology evolves, and being the enterprising animals that we are, we learn to adapt to it.
Haven't teachers always prepared students for a world they can't envisage, by default?
I started school in an era with no classroom computers. By the end of primary school, there were two Apples in my school, which were monopolised by the two naughty boys in my class so the teacher could teach the rest of us without interruption (I think I got to watch a kid play Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? once). In high school, we had a lab of slow old machines and we learnt how to use word processors and the differences between hardware and software. In my first year of University in 94, the internet was just starting to poke its head out in Australia and I racked up a sizeable Ozemail bill and annoyed my parents with battles over the phone line.
Yet here I am, just over 20 years later, and I'm a fluent technology user, using it creatively and flexibly to solve problems.
Amazingly, I did this without any paradigm-shifting pedagogical approaches from my teachers. We had text books for maths and English, rote learnt our multiplication tables, and mostly worked on our own, with the occasional group task. We didn't have to engage in metacognitive musings after every lesson, reflecting on our progress. There were no explicit lessons about learning how to learn, or how to be creative, or how to collaborate - we simply fed our brains on the stuff that society deemed was important at that time.
Could it have been more engaging? In many cases, yes. Did it fail to equip me with the skills I needed to prepare me for a futureworld requiring unknown skill sets? Not at all.
And sure, I'm no Einstein. I'm not creating earth-shattering inventions or changing the fate of humanity. But I'm pretty sure that this is down to me being pretty much smack in the middle of the bell curve, rather than poor educational opportunities. (And to be fair, Einstein didn't really appear to be adversely affected by his 19th century education).
This isn't to say that teachers should be dishing out educational tripe to students and demanding they consume it. It isn't to say that it's OK to be a Luddite who rejects all technology. We still have a duty to try and instill a love of learning and create engaging learning experiences, using a range of methods and tools. We still have a duty to keep an eye on the changing world around us and connect that to our classrooms.
I just think we need to stop for a moment and breathe. We need to critically analyse the supposed "paradigm shift". We need to engage in more robust debate about what's really important, and not simply worship at the altar of Mitra because TED-gave-him-a-million-bucks-so-he-must-be-right or drinking the Robinson kool aid because he's a charismatic speaker with a groovy sketchnote who's blowing your mind with things you'd never stopped to consider before (because Jim Jones was pretty good at that, too.)
But there are babies being thrown out with the bathwater right now. There are definitely cases to be made for change and adaptation, but they should not come at the expense of dismissing the accumulated knowledge of learning that we've developed as a species thus far. As Picasso once said, you need to “learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Anyway, that's enough for today. Time to step away from the minutiae, turn on some Talking Heads, and crawl back inside my comfortable little bubble of existential nihilism for a while.
So everybody appears to be wetting their pants over a new report released by some mob called the FYA (Foundation for Young Australians). The report is called The New Basics: Big Data Reveals the Skills Young People Need for the New Work Order.
They collected their data over the past 18 months, by examining 4.2 million job ads and extracting certain bits of information from them, including skill requirements.
And this is what has gotten people so excited: The survey says...employers want 21st century skills! (...in 2016! Whodathunkit?)
But here's the thing:
Here's how I see it playing out:
1. P21 and other 21C types created a buzz around all these fantabulous new skills that humans supposedly didn't have before, and suddenly need now, in order to live long and prosper in the 21st century. A consultancy industry was born.
2. Power People attended junkets filled with over-hyped consultants, heard the buzzwords, splashed about in them without so much as a "hmmmm", and traipsed their muddy feet back out into the world. A meme was born (as in, Dawkin's original usage of the word).
3. It filtered out into human resource and marketing departments, and they become well-versed in how to use the metalanguage without, ironically, much critical analysis applied.
4. Thinktank group collected data samples by scouring job ads written by HR types and - shazaam! - suddenly businesses need creatively enterprising and critically-thinking problem-solvers to help leverage exciting opportunities moving forward.
I know this makes me come across like a cynical cow (meh, I'm going to call it critical thinking :P) but sometimes the world of education and its surrounds just reminds me of an episode of Utopia.
But rather than snuggle up comfortably under my doona of cynicism, I decided to find out why all this 21st century hoopla has been like a mozzie buzzing around my ear lately. So during my Trove trawl yesterday I had a sticky beak at what kind of "skills" were being discussed in the last century.
A brief browse brought me back this article from 1983 (when I was in Year 2). It's talking about creativity and communication and many of the "21st century" concepts, but perhaps not as neatly packaged as now. Meanwhile, in this article from 1992, we have an industry representative declaring the following:
So perhaps part of the reason I'm feeling a bit "why is it such a big deal?" about all this stuff is because it's pretty much the same message I've been getting since I started thinking about my working life?
Have the skills really changed all that much since the 80s and 90s, or have we just gotten slicker with how we package them up and sell them? Have we simply hit Peak Buzzword?
Anyway, I'm sure this rant is simply the product of two weeks worth of edu-reading-gluttony and being hit over the head with buzzwords, and I'll return to my regular programming once I'm back in the classroom. In the meantime, I'll soothe myself with some Weird Al.
I'm going to out myself as a nerd here, but in my spare time I love picking random topics and going for a time-travelling trawl through Trove. It is such a brilliant resource, and I was devastated to hear that funding cuts are likely to impact its continued expansion.
That whinge aside, I thought a good way to get myself to blog more often would be to showcase some of the gems that I find. Today's nugget of gold is from the Canberra Times, in 1966 and is titled: COMPUTER USE ABUSED A 1984-type of life warning.
Click here for the article in full.
It's a report from the 1966 Australian Computer Conference that discusses a paper presented by American computer scientist Robert S. Barton.
In his talk, Barton warns of a rising "scribe class" called "programmers" and declares that a "new kind of literacy" and "dual languages" will be required to enable people to "formally communicate with machines". 50 years later and we're only just starting to talk about coding in classrooms!
He identified three dangers of the use of computers in education:
Wow. Sound familiar?
However, he then goes on to discuss how governments could also use computers to control the masses. He discusses the prospect of what I assume to be a direct democracy situation ("virtually continuous referendum"), but dismisses the idea because there'd be too much information for the average Joe to evaluate effectively.
He then goes on to discuss how data gathering techniques will used for things like advertising to "control the public in an insidious and reprehensive, albeit humane way".
To be honest, I think the picture that Barton painted is a little more Brave New World than 1984, so perhaps the newspaper editors should have thought a bit more about their title!
Nonetheless, his vision of the future wasn't far off. In 50 years, we've come so far. In his wildest imaginings, I'm sure that Barton would have never dreamed that humanity could achieve such amazing feats as a 10 hour video of nyancat :P
Recent Twitter discussions have gotten me thinking about the whole semantic argument around the term "teacher". When I went through my teacher training 14 years ago, our foreheads were firmly stamped with the term "facilitator". But now we're moving on to even more interesting names - co-learners, concierges, curators (more C words of the apocalypse!). We even have joyful terms such as edupreneur cropping up. (which makes me wrinkle my nose a bit, because it feels like it ties in with that whole personal brand/marketing/making money ethos that gets my goat these days).
I'm not really sure how I feel about all this.
Part of me wonders if it's the beginning of a slow descent towards teacher irrelevancy. Because the interwebz can teach anyone anything (thanks, Sugata!) are we becoming an endangered species? Is all this semantic shape-shifting simply a case of survival adaptation?
It also makes me a bit concerned that these fluffy facilitator-type names remove the impetus for teachers to know their stuff. If we can "learn together" (and yes - there is totally a place for that) and my role is to just guide unique and beautiful snowflakes along their personal learning journeys that they've mapped out for themselves in our brave new world of self-directed learning (because we all know what we don't know, right?), why is there any need for me to develop skill and knowledge expertise?
Don't get me wrong - I see where people are coming from with this chatter. I totally understand that teachercraft has changed, and is continuously changing. I've jumped aboard the change train and I'm yahooing from the window. But do we really need a new name for the actual role we do?
We are teachers. We teach people. Teachers have always worn a variety of hats - it's the nature of the beast. There are just a few more hats on the shelves these days.
We should spend our time exploring the expanding emporium of teachercraft, rather than dumping the term "teacher" into the bin of antiquity and scrabbling around for a shiny, plastic replacement.
There's still times I'm the sage on the stage (I make no apologies - I've got 30+ years on my kids - if I've not developed some kind of wisdom worth sharing, I'm obviously not doing life right!). There are other times that I facilitate by walking along placing the breadcrumb trail for the kids. Other times that I "co-learn". Sometimes I even sit back and let them do their own thing *gasp*.
But I'm still a teacher. My skillset involves knowing which horse to race on which course. The role requirements are an amorphous blob that keeps growing and moving with the tides of social, political and pedagogical change.
Perhaps I'm just being a crotchety old cow who's shaking her fist at change. I dunno.
I just don't think that teacher is a dirty word.
One of my faults is that I'm prone to a rant every now and then. Sometimes the inanity of systems and policies and bureaucracy messes with my head a little bit too much and I morph into a horrible beast of cynicism. It's why I have about 20 unpublished blog posts - because I figure it's not a good look to spew forth all that rantiness in a public forum.
But I'm going to attempt to channel these frustrations in a more sensible and constructive manner. I'm not sure how successful I'll be.
I was keen to get my head around the new maths syllabus when it was first released, and had a bit of a play with it before it was mandatory to use it. It didn't seem too different from the previous one, so I thought the transition would be pretty smooth. However, I am really struggling. I just don't feel like I'm doing it justice. It's not the understanding part - that's pretty straightforward, give or take - I just don't feel like I have enough time to thoroughly teach the content, remediate poor understanding or ensure that my kids have the opportunity to develop a deep understanding. I'm also slightly confused by the differences in implementation and interpretation that I'm discovering from school to school, but that's an issue for another day.
For two years now I've been struggling with the feeling that I have no time to teach everything. So what better way to spend an Easter long weekend than to figure out why? :P
(Now, how I did this makes me sound like a completely sad losernerd who needs to get a life - and that's probably slightly true - but trust me - I find this stuff therapeutic!)
I decided to tip all the Stage 3 maths content into a Google Sheet, to see how many content markers there were altogether. In total (including top-level markers and sub-markers and WM markers) there are 558 markers across Stage 3. Wow.
Just for fun, I dragged out my old Maths syllabus to compare how many Knowledge and Skills and Working Mathematically content markers we were required to cover in Stage 3 - there were only 292 across the two years. No wonder I'm feeling a difference!
But let's face it, no school's trying to teach all that content in a year....are they? So let's look at how many content markers there are for just the earlier (i.e. Part 1) Stage 3 content. This time, there were a mere 294. A lower number, for sure, but still a daunting task and no consolation if your school has opted to cover both earlier and later content each year.
OK, so maybe I'm being a bit melodramatic here. Of course we're not explicitly teaching every single content marker, right? Some are just covered incidently, or combined in one lesson - who needs to explicitly teach everything? The kids will totally learn it all by osmosis! So how about we just look at the top level content markers, which appear to kinda sum up all the mini-markers underneath. Well, that's a more manageable figure - only 76 of them across all of the Stage 3 content. No problem covering that in 203 days of school! Why, that works out to be 2.6 days per top level content marker. But wait! If we've got two years to cover them, that's 5.3 days per top level content marker. Woohoo!
Well, ok. Perhaps that's really not enough time to be spending on each one. So let's just look at top level content markers for early Stage 3 content. We have a nice figure of 37 - we could pretty much cover one per week. Sorry kid - didn't quite grasp that concept? We need to move on, buddy.
Having said that, some of those top level content markers have a HUGE amount of stuff underneath them. So BOSTES tried to do us a favour by creating a Continuum of Key Ideas (not to be confused with DoE's Numeracy Continuum or more recent Numeracy Skills Framework - because who doesn't love juggling multiple targets?) which kinda-sorta-tries-to-but-doesn't-really synthesise some of the sub-markers to make the content more manageable. I can see what they were trying to do, but I can't really get my head around why they didn't simply plonk in the top level content markers to act as a more overt connection to the syllabus. As it is, if a school uses the Key Ideas as the basis for their scope and sequence, and no additional drilling down occurs into the actual syllabus, there's a lot of stuff that's not being covered.
For example, in Stage 1, the Key Ideas only mentions money in the Whole Number strand, and it's all about recognising, counting and ordering money. There is no mention of money in the Addition and Subtraction section. But when you go to the syllabus, they're supposed to be performing simple calculations with money and giving change in Addition and Subtraction. This is just one example, but I've encountered a number of anomalies that occur if people don't look beyond the key ideas (and yes, they should, but no, they often don't).
So anyway, if you decide to use the Continuum of Key Ideas you've got 112 of them if you're covering both part 1 and part 2 of the content, and 63 if you're just going for the earlier stage content. No worries, mate! One key idea every 3.2 days will totally improve students' maths outcomes.
I know that the response to this overanalysis will be: but the content is not designed to be a checklist! (although some schools are using it as just that). But if "the content presented in a stage represents the knowledge, skills and understanding that are to be acquired by a typical student by the end of that stage" (Syllabus) why wouldn't I be trying to teach it all? And if we assess what we teach, why wouldn't I be assessing it too?
Or I'll be told It's only the outcome that matters! If that's the case, I've got quite a few of my kids who can "measure and construct angles, and apply angle relationships to find unknown angles" but they certainly can't demonstrate all the content markers that are listed under that outcome. Is that what differentiates them from demonstrating a sound level of achievement versus a high or outstanding level of achievement? That approach makes sense to me, but again, if the content represents the knowledge, skills and understanding that are to be acquired by a typical student then it's just sound achievement, right?
I can maybe see the possibility of jamming it all in if links are made across substrands and markers are taught concurrently. But to be honest, I haven't had the time to sit down and make those connections, and I'm limited by a scope and sequence even if I did find ways to package things together nicely.
Perhaps I'll dedicate my next long weekend to piecing together the magical jigsaw puzzle that I know lurks within the tonne of content markers. In the interim, I'll continue my slow descent into craziness.
Or perhaps I'm a complete idiot who's doing it all wrong. Happy to be slapped about the face with a wet fish if that's the case, too.
This year I've decided to start up a coding club at school. I did this because there's been a fair bit of talk about coding in schools recently and when I gave it a go last year with my class last year I was pretty impressed with how engaging it was and saw lots of potential. I also fondly remember my own experiences learning to code various things over the years, and as a kid how awesome it felt to be able to program the computer to bounce a ball around a screen or sequence gobbledegook to create a webpage (before the days of drag and drop interfaces). That sense of being able to create using technology was really empowering.
Right now I'm in the process of wading my way through the 'buzz' to try and tease out the best practice pedagogy to teach coding as well as sniffing out the most authentic syllabus links. Often when I see examples of coding online, it's all about the 'wow - look what the kids created!' and no talk about how the teacher guided them there or how it was linked to the syllabus. And yes, I know how limiting the syllabus can be, but we're bound by it so we just have to suck it up and use what we have.
So I figured a coding club would be a good way to cut my teeth without impacting on my class' learning. There really isn't enough time for a whole bunch of failwhale/play lessons when we're already drowning in all the stuff we have to cover and assess, so inviting along willing participants at lunchtime seemed a good way to start growing a coding culture and help me learn along with the kids. I figured it would also allow me to find easy pathways to help colleagues step into the coding world in a meaningful way (and also create a group of upskilled kids who could help teachers and mentor their classmates).
Phase One - Getting to Know You
I sent out a call for kids interested in coding to sign up for the club. Initially I had 130 kids sign up (only 34% were girls, unfortunately) and had to spread a one-lunchtime activity across three days so we had the resources to cope. Thankfully, numbers dropped as kids either forgot to come, decided it wasn't their cup of tea or preferred to run around the playground at lunch. Now I have a much more manageable number of 80-90 kids from grades 3-6. There's also a wide range of ability, with kids who struggle with reading and writing and who didn't know how to log in to the computer, through to kids who've already made some games in Gamepress.
Term One has been all about familiarising ourselves with what coding is all about. Kids have been allowed to wander free range through Blockly, code.org Hour of Code and Code Combat (which was actually suggested by a student, and has become very popular with the boys). During this time, I've been trying to develop the concept of collaboration and problem-solving, as well as developing persistence and resilience and understanding that mistakes will happen but learning how to learn from them. At the start, I had a labful of kids screeching out "Miiiiisssssss!" when something got too hard. Over time, we've developed a range of strategies to resolve problems, such as trial and error; seeking out a peer who's at the same level and working through it together; finding a friend who's at a higher level to mentor you through the level; or identifying key phrases to search Google for a solution. Many kids believed that "Googling is cheating", but we spoke about this idea and worked out the difference between just copying a solution to pass a level, and taking time to reflect on why and how that code works. There are still a couple of kids who are all about levelling-up, but I'm surprised at how many could verbalise where they were going wrong and then apply that learned knowledge in the next level. It's also been great to see kids from different grades connect and help each other out.
Phase Two - From Consumers to Creators
I'm allowing the kids to self-pace their learning, but I've started to plant some seeds in their heads about how they can move from being consumers of content to creators of content. To do this, we had a quick look at Scratch. I gave them the spiel about why it's important to move beyond being mere consumers. I used the idea that if they're simply consumers, they're going to spend their lives giving their money to other people and relying on others to solve all their problems, but as creators, other people will give them their money or they will have the skills to meet their own needs. It seemed to resonate.
So I briefly showed them how to access the gallery so they could spend some time browsing through the types of projects that other people have made, how to "look inside" to see the code that they used, and how they could remix the code in various ways to help teach themselves how different commands are used.
This opened up a whole new world to many of them. Many "Wow!"s were heard, and many groans of disappointment were heard when the end-of-lunch bell rang. One comment was "I wish I could do this all day, every day!" .
It has been interesting to watch the different approaches that the kids have taken. Some have been simply viewing other creations to whet their appetites and having a bit of a look at the code. Others have carefully followed the in-built tutorials to help them learn the ropes. Others have just dived right in and threw in bits of code to see what happens.
As a teacher, it's the first time I've truly felt OK about letting kids navigate their own learning, and it feels like a comfortable pair of shoes. Part of this is because I don't have syllabus content and planning, assessment and reporting cycles breathing down my neck.
Phase Three - Towards Blue Sky Thinking
The next planned phase - and I'm not sure when this is going to happen - will be connecting this coding to physical computing, through Makey Makeys, Arduinos or Edison robots. I have to dabble with these myself first, because although I love learning alongside the kids, I need to have a fundamental knowledge of things to partially know which trail to head down.
Since the ICTENSW conference a few weeks back, I've been paying greater attention to the buzz around the Internet of Things and I think that this is a space where I could possibly start making some strong connections to the Scitech syllabus, particularly in terms of Working Technologically/design thinking. When you look at some of the great ideas that the finalists of the Young ICT Explorers came up with, it's easy to see that primary-aged kids are capable of some incredibly creative ideas. So for the moment, this is the end goal.
It's been a fantastic journey so far, and I look forward to posting another update at the end of next term to reflect on how our little coding club has progressed.
So our school's doing a big push on 21st century learning. That term kinda irritates me these days for some reason, but whatever - I'll go with the flow because I understand the intention and it's a noble cause.
Within the buzzword bundle, I suppose we'll be covering the 4Cs, or the 7Cs, or however many Cs are deemed necessary to ensure our little learners are capable of adapting to this crazy ol' world that they're going to inherit.
However, the C that has always caused me to crunch my eyebrows is "creativity". For me, this has always seemed such a nebulous concept, yet people always seem to talk about it like they have a clearly defined understanding of what it looks like and how it's nurtured.
I have too many questions about it to have such clarity.
Merriam-Webster defines creativity as "the ability to make new things or think of new ideas". My gut response to this is that creativity is unattainable for average Joes like me. Everytime I think of something that I think is 'new', the internet promptly informs me that it's been done a thousand times before. It really does feel like there's nothing new under the sun and that only the super intelligent types are capable of creativity, whilst mediocre plebs like me are destined to be the foot soldiers of their genius.
But I'm not one to rely on a single definition. So I fossicked around to see what other sources had to say. During my fossicking, I came across a great piece by Kaufman and Beghetto, titled Beyond Big and Little: The Four C Model of Creativity. As I read through it, I was heartened to discover that even academia has a fuzzy view of creativity. They had me at this:
"The exact question of what is creativity is often ignored or answered in too many different ways. For example, Plucker, Beghetto, and Dow (2004) selected 90 different articles with the word “creativity” in the title (60 from the two top creativity journals, and 30 from peer-reviewed business, education, and psychology journals). Of these papers, only 38% explicitly defined what creativity was. Further, basic questions about creativity’s nature remain under debate. Is creativity a key part of positive psychology, or is it related to mental illness and other negative health outcomes? How does creativity relate to other, related constructs, such as personality and motivation? Can everyone be creative?"
Phew. Glad I'm not the only one who's confused.
Despite the fuzziness, Kaufman and Beghetto put forward a model of creativity that provides me with something to start hanging my ideas on. They begin with the concepts of "Big C" and "little c" creativity, which I didn't know existed until read this document. As I poked around a bit more, I discovered that this is a pretty common reference within psychology circles - who knew? This APA site provided a nice, clear definition of these two terms:
Big C Creativity: when a person solves a problem or creates an object that has a major impact on how other people think, feel and live their lives. Think big guns like Einstein, Jobs/Wozniak etc.
little c creativity: includes everyday problem-solving and the ability to adapt to change
But according to Kaufman and Beghetto, this two-tier model doesn't quite capture all the shades of grey, as it essentially says you're either engaging in ground-breaking, world-changing creativity or you're just dabbling in mediocrity. So they added in two additional levels.
mini-c creativity: the novel and personally meaningful interpretation of experiences, actions, and events (Beghetto & Kaufman,
2007). This sits below little-c creativity and basically gives a nod to all the constructs of knowledge that we make as individuals, or in other words, the "creativity inherent in the learning process".
Pro-C creativity: this one sits between little-c and Big-C creativity, and sets about to acknowledge the higher level of creativity demonstrated by "professional creators". They present a clear example:
"...although the little-c category is useful for the everyday creativity of the home cook who can creatively combine ingredients
to develop unique and tasty meals and the Big-C category is appropriate for chefs who have revolutionized the profession, what about the professional chef who makes a living developing creative entrees (clearly surpassing the creativity of the innovative
home cook) but has not yet attained (or may never attain) Big-C status?"
Now, I'm only just starting to stick my head into this space and I have no idea if Kaufman and Beghetto are the ugly stepsisters at the Creativity Ball. But I like a good framework, and this one makes reasonable sense at this point in time, so I'm happy to use as a starting point for my exploration of creativity.
I wonder where my creativity learning journey will take me next?
Last weekend I attended the ICTENSW Annual Conference. It was my first time attending the conference, and my mind was blown. Quite often I walk away from conferences rolling my eyes at motherhood statements issued by people who've not been in a classroom for years, but this conference had a solid helping of real world practitioners sharing warts-and-all stories from the coal face. Loved it!
But as always, I've walked away with my brain running a thousand miles an hour. Aside from the fact that many of the presenters were private school teachers who appeared to have access to oodles of resources, and just served to make me grizzly about the private/public resource divide, it made me question my own practice, and question the way things are done on a school and system wide level.
Schools have generally developed scope and sequences which neatly map out syllabus content for teachers to ensure that students cover all the syllabus outcomes across a stage. I can definitely see the purpose in this - outcomes are mandatory and despite there being all sorts of confusion in the teaching world about the must-do nature of the syllabus content, the general gist is that you cover the content. There's also a need for mapping things out so that teachers can engage in practices around consistent teacher judgement. Because awarding a grade is the obviously the most important thing in education.
But the picture I have in my head doesn't really fit this model. The picture in my head looks a lot like the picture to the right.
In my ideal world, my programming would begin with questions like: What do my kids need? What are my kids interested in? What actually matters in the real world, and why? What's topical right now? What connections can I make between what my kids like and the sometimes icky and boring stuff that they need to know to be active, creative, engaged and higher order thinking members of our global society?
As I ponder these questions, I would have them bounce around within the framework of my syllabus knowledge and think about which bits they stick to, and I would map out a skeleton learning journey that ties in appropriate syllabus outcomes/content, connecting KLAs in an authentic way. I'd then keep track of which outcomes I'd covered and ensure that I covered them all.
But of course there are a multitude of problems with this approach.
Firstly, unless you're in a small school, you have to be able to keep track of the outcomes covered by an entire cohort of students that's taught by multiple teachers. A colleague suggested a way around this would be to have a class for two consecutive years. Not such a bad idea, I guess. I mean, Steiner schools keep their kids for 8 years (though I think that's a little too extreme!).
The other downside is that parents may complain if students in Class A are doing things entirely different to students in Class B.
This could be overcome by teachers collaboratively planning, but that's a difficult thing to achieve if you have a large team with teachers with varying pedagogical approaches, skillsets, interests, time and energy. Of course, the counter-argument to this is that no parent can be sure that their child is getting the same education as a student in the neighbouring school, so why do differences from class to class matter?
I can see how scope and sequences worked in the past, and they were good for ensuring you covered all the bases. Perhaps my yearning for curriculum freedom comes partly from a desire to be able to explore connections between all the new syllabus documents, or partly because I've been teaching for a while now and find scope and sequences a bit too restrictive because sometimes it feels like you're trying to put together a jigsaw with all the wrong pieces.
Are there schools out there that have ditched scope and sequences? I'd love to know what innovative practices schools are using and how they're keeping track of outcomes etc. It'd be great to find some examples and hear about the pros and cons of their approach.
So you'll notice from previous blog posts that once upon a time I was really excited by the prospect of Google Apps. I used various GAFEs to support my digital program for a while, but couldn't really capitalise on my enthusiasm in the classrom until DEC finally deployed GAFE for students. Up until now it wasn't really the right moment for me to give GAFE a go with my kids. But we had the perfect opportunity to give them a go this term, so off we went - to collaboratively develop a presentation on Spain for our fellow Year 2 students.
We did all the research and note-taking and prepared our work the 'old fashioned way' with some help from the XOs. Then, lucky enough to score a rare spot in the computer lab, we bravely marched off to conquer Google Presentations.
In our first lesson, we managed to get through logging into the portal for the first time (don't need to do that with the XOs), checking our email and clicking on the shared document link. We divvied up the pages with one slide per pair, and I gave a brief demo of inserting text and pictures. Then I let them run free to sculpt their informative texts.
And my whole concept of what literacy could (should?) look like was turned on its head.
The kids started typing their words on their pages, and rather than me sit with a small group, slowly poring over sentences, or running frantically between kids responding to cries of 'Miiiiiiisssss!', I could zip between slides from my computer and quickly type in comments containing feedback about their spelling, punctuation and grammar. I could provide suggestions for layout. I could explain where various tools were that might enhance their presentation. The kids (working in pairs) read the feedback, discussed its meaning, and worked together to resolve the issue. As they completed their guided self-editing, I'd remove the comment, and provide the next bit of feedback. By the next session, they'd learnt how to reply to my comments to clarify their understanding. Some of them also provided feedback on other student's pages. For example, when a student asked whether I thought his background colour was appropriate, instead of giving him a 'teacher answer', I stopped the class and asked them to go to his slide and leave a comment about the slide's readability.
At the end of lesson two, I casually mentioned that they could also access the presentation from home, if they wanted to do any extra work on it. Around 5pm that afternoon, as I sat at my computer at work, I noticed a little notification on my desktop saying that one of my students was editing the document. I opened it up and there she was, trying to add bits and pieces. I added a comment to provide a bit of guidance and popped back in every few minutes while I was doing my work to add feedback. Now, on Friday night, as I sit here blogging away, I have three little munchkins logged in to our presentation and I'm switching between screens to give them feedback about spelling, grammar, punctuation and design.
I know that people have been going on about Google Apps for a while, and this post isn't adding anything new to the mix. But after finally seeing it in action, I am buoyed with enthusiasm and needed to let it all out somewhere. In conclusion, my first experience at collaborative writing has left me with the following impressions:
Downsides? Well, there were some bumps in the road. For example, there were a few cases of kids accidentally deleting slides (easily fixed with the Revision feature). And there's always that niggling feeling that I'm not teaching English correctly because I'm not doing it the way it's always been done. Some kids started getting confident with the comments feature and went a little bit silly at times, but that provided some teachable moments regarding digital citizenship and appropriate ways to communicate online.
I also did feel that it was difficult for my strugglers to engage in writing in this way. My 2-3 kids who require 1:1 support for most learning activities just didn't have the necessary independence to engage through this mode of learning. They still participated in the lessons, but we did a lot of traditional writing support involving a higher level of scaffolding. In this respect, it really provides a good justification for BYOD so that there are more devices in a regular classroom setting and it's easier to provide traditional support for those students who aren't quite there yet - the lab really wasn't the best learning environment to facilitate multiple modes of learning.
Still, overall it was a positive experience and I'm excited by the potential of it!
Minecraft in education has been a bit of 'thing' in recent years, and I've had a play but it's never quite been the right bunch of kids or the right time to dive head first into a teaching and learning sequence using Minecraft as a medium. I've seen some fantastic ways that teachers have used Minecraft as a tool in their classrooms and also some not-so-fantastic ways - sometimes I look at lessons and wonder if the time taken for the kids to create something on Minecraft provided any additional benefits to them than what they would have achieved with another tool, even the humble old pencil and paper. I wanted to be sure that I wasn't just using it for the 'cool factor'.
So now seemed the perfect time to dive in. Last term we looked at shelters in HSIE. This term we're looking at the properties of materials in Scitech. So the stars seemed to align and I thought that the perfect segue between these two topics would be a short project where the kids have to work in teams to design a shelter for the Three Little Pigs that would keep them safe from the Big Bad Wolf.
We viewed a digital version of the text and discussed where the first two little pigs went wrong. This got the discussion going around materials - which materials would be best for the pigs to use? Most thought that brick would be the best option, but more on this later!
We talked about the properties of shelters - what were the needs of the pigs? What features would the shelters need to have to meet these needs? We jointly constructed criteria for what we thought a good shelter for the Three Little Pigs should include.
The kids were then allowed to choose their own groups - they could be in partners or pairs - and I was surprised at how many of them buddied up with kids they wouldn't normally buddy up with. Two kids with specific communication needs chose to work on their own and I hovered around them facilitating dialogue with each other and guiding them to ask questions from peers to problem solve etc. Everyone seemed to be working in a way that suited them.
The kids knew at the end that they would need to take screenshots of the key features of their shelters and describe why they chose those features and materials in an Explain Everything presentation. They got down to it and have spent two sessions on it. One group has finished their first draft presentation and the rest are ready to start their presentations on Monday.
Some things that have blown my mind so far:
- All kids are engaged. And they aren't just absorbed by a screen on their own, there are 2-3 heads huddled around a screen, sharing ideas excitedly and respectfully debating the merits of particular design choices.
- Cooperation between groups has been amazing. From the outset they were encouraged to share expertise and the manner in which they have done this has been outstanding. They are ticking plenty of PDH outcomes in this activity and giving their oral explanatory skills a great workout.
- I've seen more kids showing initiative and risk-taking. I've seen a number of students who weren't on the computer think about what else they could contribute and pick up some paper to forward-plan something else for the design or prepare aspects of the presentation.
- One of my students who struggles in traditional literacy activities came to me with his written plan for the presentation. When I have attempted to teach 'planning' in traditional writing activities, it has always gone over his head. But with an authentic purpose, he knew it's what he needed to do in order to prepare for his presentation.
As a first dabble into Minecraft, things are going pretty well. I guess the big question that I have is: How do I record all this rich learning in a program? There are so many outcomes being addressed here, but they don't fit nicely into one box.
I spent the last two days at the Google Apps for Education Summit at MLC (#gafesummit). As the name would suggest, this event was all about learning how to use Google Apps in the classroom - something that's particularly relevant given that DEC will be making them available to students and staff in 2013.
Last year was my first time I really got my teeth into Google tools. I used Google Docs (which morphed into Google Drive halfway through the year) and Google Sites to organise my classroom program. I used Google Calendar and of course used things like News, Scholar and Books from time to time. So I know my way around Googleland and even a few little tricks, but there's still lots to learn, and this event seemed like the perfect way to consolidate what I already know and prepare myself for the new Google-enabled DEC world in 2013.
Plenty of resources can be found by checking out #gafesummit on Twitter.
Additionally, all the presentation resources can be found here: http://sydney.gafesummit.com/resources
As much as I love my ePLN and being a connected teacher (and I do – see my posts here, and here, and here), I have moments where I ponder its drawbacks. One of them is how it sometimes make me feel like I’m a really bad teacher (even when I feel like I can’t give any more).
Teachers are reflective creatures at the best of times, but sometimes it feels like I’m walking through a hall of mirrors when I immerse myself in my online network of teachers. For example, the past few days alone my online teaching network has told me:
Everything I read seems to be telling me about how I’m not doing something correctly or how I could be doing it better or tells me something I’m not doing at all that I should be doing. And it’s not just the content that sends this message, it’s also the tone – you must be doing this, or you should be doing that. In short, sometimes it feels like I’m just not up to scratch. How can I ever possibly be the amazing teacher who meets the Criteria of Awesomeness that’s fed to me by the interwebz?
I suppose that it’s not too different to how the media (and women’s magazines in particular) have provided me with a small range of socially acceptable “girl phenotypes” and tried to make me feel flawed or useless if I don’t fit one of them. I’ve taught myself to deconstruct those messages and see them for the laughable, misogynistic guff that they are – I guess I just have to apply those same critical analysis skills to the collective voice telling me that I’m a crap teacher unless I do x, y, z and a, b, c.
But if this makes me – a seasoned web user with reasonable digital literacy skills and an OK BS filter – feel like curling up into the foetal position, it must be far more overwhelming to those who are just starting to dip their toes into the digital waters. What a confronting experience that must be.
Anyway, I've decided that simplicity is key. In this ‘edufrenzy’ culture of buzzwords and increased window-dressing accountability and teacher-bashing, it’s important to keep it simple and remember that our job is one that involves helping little humans in their journey to become big humans who contribute to society in a positive way. A big responsibility, sure, but it doesn’t have to be rocket science.
Last year I began my journey with digital choiceboards. After two years of testing, making many mistakes and having the odd lightbulb moment, I thought I should finally make some time to share the process and products with the world!
The NSW Government has introduced a new initiative called Every Student, Every School which uses a combination of Federal and State funding in an attempt to provide more targeted support for students with disabilities in our schools. Whilst I have personal opinions on the pros and cons of the initiative and its implementation to date, I think a pragmatic response right now is to acknowledge that all teachers are going to have to increase their capacity to understand and cater for students with disabilities and difficulties in their classrooms. Although I think this shift is a positive one in terms of inclusivity, it doesn’t mean that won’t be a long and bumpy road of learning for many teachers.
Whilst the department will be providing some support to teachers in terms of professional development, the reality is that with limited funds and time, not all teachers will be able to access this PD in a timely manner. I’ve also noticed a few more ‘cries for help’ from schools/teachers who are no longer able to draw on the expertise at a district level to support students in their schools and are being required to start building their own capacity.
So to meet this need, I thought I’d put together a range of resources that may come in handy for schools/teachers to utilise in the upskilling of their staff in a range of areas. It’s a short list (thought I’d go with quality over quantity) but if you or your school requires information on specific disabilities/issues, please drop me a line as I’ve collected quite a few useful sites/resources/contacts over the years and I may have something stashed away to help out!
(Of course my favourite subject gets top priority! )
Positive Partnerships is funded under the Federal Government’s Helping Children with Autism package. They offer a really useful online Autism course and fact sheets both for parents and teachers, which address typical characteristics and implications for learning. Best of all, it’s FREE.
In term three, all schools in Australia should have received a package from Autism Awareness which included a DVD of a fantastic documentary called What Are You Doing?: A Film About Autism which also included a range of age appropriate teaching resources. Although intended as a way to support peer understanding of students with Autism, the film is also a great one to show as a staff meeting to increase general awareness of the needs of students with Autism.
ASPECT is a not-for-profit organisation that provides support and guidance for people with Autism and their families. They provide a number of useful fact sheets and run workshops to support educators. Also a useful contact point if you just want to know where to start with Autism.
Sue Larkey is well known for her entertaining workshops and her growing range of resources and books about Autism Spectrum Disorders. Her site is one to bookmark, and her workshops are highly recommended for people new to Autism. She also puts out a lot of useful fact sheets and you can subscribe to her mailing list.
General Disability Information
Physical as Anything is a website put together by NSW DEC and Westmead Children’s Hospital and it is a FANTASTIC resource that provides a wealth of information from explaining specific medical, developmental and psychological conditions through to whole school planning and making adjustments in the classroom. This site was launched with much fanfare a few years ago but it doesn’t seem to get much of a mention these days. This is a huge loss, because it really should be in the bookmarks lists of all teachers.
LDOnline is another comprehensive site (albeit US-based) to support kids with learning difficulties that provides basic facts, support for teachers and resources.
Literacy Instruction for Individuals with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome and other disabilities is a really useful site out of PennState University which really breaks down the rationale, planning and implementation of individual education goals for students with disabilities. There is also video content which is really valuable.
Caroline Bowen is a speech pathologist from Australia who has compiled a phenomenal list of resources that can be used with students with speech, language and communication difficulties. If you click on the ‘resources’ link there is lots to choose from, and her “links” page has some handy resources as well. Although the target audience is obviously other speech pathologists, there is a lot that can be utilised by teachers with a little bit of research to get their heads around the terminology.
Speech SPACE is a site that evolved as part of the Riverina Schools Project Partnership and has a non-overwhelming range of practical resources that have been tried and tested in educational settings. Lots of useful checklists available here.
Talking Point is a UK-based site that provides information for parents and teachers to support children’s communication. You can search for information by age group and it also includes teaching strategies and case studies.
Therapy Street for Kids is a brilliant, practical site that describes the key areas addressed by occupational therapists and provides a list of activities that can be used to support students in the classroom in these areas. It also provides sensory regulation tips for students with Autism, however I highly recommend you use something like Sue Larkey’s Sensory Checklist (available in her Practical Sensory Programmes book) before embarking on this path.
Once you’ve brushed up on your OT basics, the site OT Plan is really useful for teachers designing a program to be used in the classroom. You can develop an OT plan for your students by choosing a range of variables.
This Fine Motor site via the NSW DEC’s K-6 Linkages program shows a range of ways that fine motor activities can be linked to KLAs, so that OT can be embedded into the curriculum rather than just an ‘add on’.
I think this is enough for now. There are lots of other sites, and maybe I’ll look at creating a Symbaloo of links in each of these categories as a more permanent and comprehensive resource. Do you have any sites that you find useful in any of these categories? Feel free to share them so we can help reduce the load for teachers on their new learning journey under ESES.
So I’ve had a week to let my brain unwind, and I’ve been thinking about those moments during the term that really stood out for me. I wanted to share my favourite.
I have a kidlet in my class who is always asking questions. Sometimes he drives me nuts with all the “whys”, but mostly, I love it. I never give him answers, but I shine a light on paths he could follow to find the answer.
So anyway, we’ve been making dioramas of the Sun, Moon and Earth this term, inspired by a student’s question of “where does the Sun go?” and this particular lad wanted to have a go at making one at home, but then remembered that he didn’t have any glue.
I suggested that maybe he could make the glue. “How?” he asked. I reminded him about the maracas he’d made with our RFF teacher, and asked how they’d made the glue for them. “With flour and water! How do I know how much to put in?” he queried. I asked him if he had any idea how he could find out, knowing we’d spent the term looking at procedures and recipes.
“A recipe!” he exclaimed. “Can you write it for me?”
My reply? “No way! I’m not writing it for you. You can figure it out yourself. How do you think you could find one?”
“I don’t know,” he immediately shrugged, with a bit of his learned helplessness creeping in.
I shrugged back,”Well, I’m not thinking for you. You’ll need to have a think.”
He went away with a quizzical look, and I could tell he was chewing it over in his mind. About 10 minutes later he came back, and replied “I could look on the internet at home?”
“That sounds like a great idea!” I replied. He’d done the hard yards, so I met him halfway. “Maybe if you Googled flour and water glue, you’d get a recipe?”
So off he traipsed, head full of things-to-do when he got home.
The next day, I asked him how his search for a glue recipe went.
“So, did you find a glue recipe on Google?” I asked.
“No, silly. I searched for ‘how to make glue’ on YouTube. It was much better. It showed me how to do it with pictures,” he replied.
Yes, how silly am I! But how cool is he? This was my moment of the term, for a number of reasons:
- I love that even though I have high expectations of my kids, they always give me moments like this that cause me to raise them even higher.
- I love that this is authentic, connected and student-directed learning.
- I just love the richness of the skills he’s demonstrated in this interaction: the communication, the evaluation of tool appropriateness, the problem-solving – all the hallmarks of a teaching ‘buzz moment’.