Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
If you have missed the previous articles in the Education Nation series, you can find them here.
Lila Mularczyk’s presentation closed out session one of day two at Education Nation and took us into the morning break. I made the decision, still feeling like I had conference brain, that I would sit out during Murat Dizdar’s (@dizdarm) presentation about the national education reform program which commenced session two. I spoke to Murat briefly who gave me permission to record it so that I could listen to it later on. When I sat down yesterday to transfer the photos I had taken from my phone and tablet to my computer, I saw an image of some carpet and, thinking it was an accidental photo of the floor, hit delete. My brain processed, about two seconds later, that it had also had the film strip icon. So I, unfortunately, have nothing to show for Murat’s presentation, for which I can only apologise.
Following Murat’s presentation was Professor Ken Wiltshire speaking about the future of curriculum in Australia. I have only a few written notes from Professor Wiltshire’s presentation, however, there was an active Twitter conversation throughout his session, which I was involved with and have captured via a storify, which you can find here. Some of the key points that I have noted down that Professor Wiltshire sees learning as having four dimensions:
He commented that few of the recommendations from the review of the national curriculum had been adopted and brought up a number of reforms that he felt should occur, including but not limited to an enforcement of compulsory schooling and the enactment of the National Curriculum as well as a national forum on the purposes of education, values and foundations which should underpin education.
Further, he proposes that we need a national body, that is apolitical to be tasked with writing, reviewing, developing and overseeing education curriculum and assessment, labelling ACARA as a “…horse-trading and political body, not an education body…”
Professor Wiltshire made an interesting comment regarding initial teacher education (ITE), which you can see at the top of the below photo:
I invite you to read through the storify of Professor Wiltshire’s presentation which you can find here and invite anyone who has written about either Professor Wiltshire’s or Murat Dizdar’s presentations (or any other presentation from Education Nation, for that matter) to send me the link to include in this article.
Thank you for reading. If you have missed any articles in this series, you can find the full list here.
“To sell our children short today is to sell Australia short tomorrow.”
– Gough Whitlam, 1972, cited by Stephen Elder, 27 October 2014
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
If you have missed previous articles in the Eduction Nation series, you can find them here.
I have to confess to something. By the time Lila arrived, despite her energy and passion, I was struggling to stay focused and engaged. I had conference-brain and I missed much of what Lila said. This was exacerbated by Lila speaking with so much energy and passion; and speed. It was difficult to keep up and my brain simply said no.So if it seems as if Lila’s presentation is a bit jumpy and the ideas only tenuously linked, that says more about my note taking and ability to focus during her session than it does about Lila’s content.
Lila opened by remarking that if the education sectors do not work together then the students are the ones who suffer, and it is the students who matter most. Furthermore, of the countries in the OECD whose lead we historically follow socially, culturally and in regards to educational policy, namely the United States and the United Kingdom, their results on PISA testing is going backwards as well, which begs the question of whether we should be following their lead.
Lila spoke about how targeted funding, that is, funding that is targeted to specific needs and/or programs makes a significant difference within education and that for those students in low socioeconomic areas, where eighty percent of students’ families cannot afford to for the student to attend university, university offers are meaningless. She continued ( think) by saying that we need to be looking to credible, interrogated, and reliable educational research when we make decisions about educational policies and pedagogical practices and she included John Hattie’s research in this.
She continued by making reference to work by Ravitch (see photo above) and Pasi Sahlberg‘s (@pasi_sahlberg) unfortunately, though I suspect deliberately acronymised movement, Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), which has been gaining traction here in Australia, but which was largely informed by myth.
It was at this point that I must have completely zoned out (though my ears must have perked up automatically when publishers and big business was mentioned as I took the below photo, however, as I tuned back in, an unknown amount of time later, I heard Lila say to the audience that “…it is not money itself that is the answer, but how we use the money ,” a sentiment that sounds very logical and sensible and which I do not think too many people would disagree with. It has echoes of some aspects of The Great Debate and some of what was said there, as well as what I have heard other speakers from Education Nation were intimating in their own presentations.
Lila then remarked that many of the educational practices and ideas that are translated from overseas educational systems are informed by myths, referring back to the opening discussion about the Australian tendency to follow the United Kingdom and the United states when it comes to social and cultural developments and that this holds largely true for educational policy. Thankfully, we have not yet completely gone the way of the corporate curriculum being peddled in both those countries, and about which I have heard nothing but negative feedback, scorn, and derision from educators being forced to work in those contexts. It does, unfortunately, feel like we are beginning to move in that direction. I can only hope we manage to avoid the waves being seen in the United States as a result of Pearson’s engagement with education (see here or here for example), where, in many educational jurisdictions they provide the tests, create and deliver the professional development opportunities, write and provide the textbooks and effectively populate the curriculum.
A comment about tenure was made, with Lila remarking that she could not imagine not having permanency of employment and the uncertainty that that must bring with it.
Lila closed (as far as my notes indicate) by commenting that there is no research which credibly demonstrates a correlation between the decentralisation of educational policy and curriculum with improved academic outcomes for students.
I can only apologise to both Lila and my readers for not having a complete set of notes for this session. I underestimated how intense Education Nation would be cognitively, and it was a late night at the end of day one of Education Nation as I attended the #AussieEd Live event at Kirribilli Club (which was a fantastic night) and had then returned to my hotel to write an article. If anyone has written an article as a result of Lila’s session, or any others, please let me know, as I would be happy to include a link to any articles written from Education Nation by other delegates.
Thank you for reading and if you have missed any articles in this series, you can find them here.
Education Nation | Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson - Encouraging students to become active participants in their learning
“We need to till and fertilise the soil before we can harvest the growth in our classroom.”
– Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson
Peter Mader’s session led into lunch (which was fantastic), after which I headed off to The Learner to hear from Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson (@prue_g and @ed_cuthbertson) about how to encourage students to become active participants in their own learning. It promised to be an interesting session, which was unfortunately poorly attended, but from which I learned a lot. Prue and Ed have kindly made their slide deck available and you can find it here.
They began by providing some context for the audience, indicating that they came from a low socioeconomic status (SES) area called Conder in the ACT. They qualified it by saying that low SES in the ACT is not the same as low SES in NSW or other states, but that they are, relatively speaking, disadvantaged and isolated from the rest of the region. They added that they have both been in the school, together, for some years, which is actually an unusual situation. Apparently the ACT used to have a policy in place to ensure cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices that a teacher moved to a new school every two years. The unintended consequence of this was that staffing in the school was fluid and there was constant change, resulting in it beign very difficult to build or change school culture. The practice has, thankfully, fallen by the wayside and has resulted in vastly improved relationships between staff members and between staff and students
We began by considering that we cannot empower students when teachers are not themselves empowered and were asked to consider and map on a Cartesian Plane, school practices that were low or high quality and were empowering or disempowering for teachers.
The audience spent time collaboratively filling in their own Cartesian planes and then came back together and shared the ideas. They related to us, as they added groups ideas to the plane, that they were shown this tool by Dan Meyer and that it provided a usable tool for helping a school move from across the plane to the top right-hand quadrant.
They explored the idea that it was impossible to teach the curriculum if a teacher too busy managing behaviour issues and how teachers need to sit down at the same level as students as part of the behaviour management process, conferencing with them to discuss the root cause of the behaviour. This goes back to the theory that all behaviour has a reason or purpose behind it. The school began using the mini-conference process as a way of addressing behaviour issues constructively and that as it gained traction and acceptance from teachers, students and parents, that they were then able to use it not only to assist in resolving teacher:student issues but also in resolving teacher:teacher and student:student issues.
The school invested time in helping staff develop their professional development plans (PDPs), identifying development opportunities that met both staff and school needs and used action research to gather data on what practices were and were not working and to be able to determine the level of impact that practices were having using data.
They spoke about the need to value the passion and knowledge of teachers and to invest in and then leverage that, compromising as needed logistically. The example they gave was that a science teacher wanted to run a particular program and had built up the interest in science to the point where students wanted to engage in that program. The school leadership was able to recognise the passion and knowledge of that teacher and gave the go-ahead for the program, with a quid-pro-quo of taking on an additional class.
The school also uses collaboratively teaching and have placed all Year Seven mathematics classes on the same line, allowing for team teaching, planning, programming, and assessing.
Another aspect of the school which I believe is fantastic is that every teacher in the school, including the Assistant Principals and the Deputy Principal, are expected to observe and provide feedback to two other teachers, as well be observed and given feedback about their own teaching practice. I have heard this concept given many names, but the underlying spirit is brilliant and promotes growth, learning, and best-practice and that it has resulted in significant growth throughout the entire teaching staff.
The school has also worked hard to remove useless and wasteful staff meetings consisting of items that belong in an e-mail. They map out the agendas for staff meetings for the full year and make them visible to the entire staff, creating an environment where e-mail meetings are reduced and promoting genuine discussion and debate on substantive issues. One of the issues examined was the use of funding and the recognition that data and accountability for the use of funding go hand in hand. To this end, funding began to be targeted to specific purposes and programs, which needed to be evaluated and the data used to determine success and the impact thereof through action research. One outcome of this was that the way rubrics were used to judge assessment tasks was changed. They are now structured and given to students indicating that by the end of the unit they need to be able to answer specific in-depth questions, rather than simply writing a report that uses a few keywords.
In order to improve the level of teacher wellbeing, the school instituted a family week wherein staff are encouraged to not arrive at school prior to 0800 and to not be on premises after 1530. In addition to this, once a week, each subject block (the school is grouped into three cross-faculty blocks) has a staff lunch. During that staff lunch, which is cooked by the staff specifically to share with each other, students are not allowed to go to that staffroom and all playground duties are taken care of by the other two faculty-blocks. I have written previously about the benefits of sharing a meal with colleagues, and they have held consistently for Lanyon High School staff.
One area that was identified as needing improvement was in collaboration with other schools. To this end, a learning community was established with nearby primary and secondary schools. As part of this, joint assemblies are held on a regular, but not interferingly regular, basis so that when students transition from primary to secondary, the school they attend is already relatively familiar due to the community environment that has been established.
At this point, we were asked to consider what an empowered student looked like and in our table groups, discussed and explored this with some consistent themes emerging in the room.
Prue and Ed also noted that if it is easy to measure, then it is probably not worth measuring, which led to a discussion about how do we measure if our students are empowered. Some tools that they use as a school include attendance rates, especially for those with historically low attendance as well as reading student reflection journals.
The discussion then moved onto an explanation of the merit and reward system that was being used across the school and that while it was working well and having positive effects, there was an awareness of Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards theory and the negative potential of extrinsic motivation. There was a discussion of the fact that some schools physically cannot get through the whole curriculum and that one way they were working through that issue was to utilise the learning by design methodology in their planning and programming, as well as peer feedback on practice.
They discovered that students were working on assignments outside of school hours, collaboratively, and diving into deep discussions on concepts that were being covered in class.
We are often told, as educators, that we need to leverage a student’s interest and teach to it. However, Prue and Ed argued that if a student likes bikes, do not give him a book about bikes and teach everything through bikes as that will only destroy the love of bikes. It is also, they said, our job to expose students to other ideas, concepts, and interests rather than allow them to become single-minded about something.
Closing out, Prue and Ed spoke to us briefly about the Giving Project they run through Years Seven, Eight and Nine, the use of a genuine student parliament which has input in the school and issues that affect students, and the last comment was from Prue; “that what works is not the right question. What works somewhere does not work everywhere.”
I enjoyed the session with Prue and Ed, their passion shone through and we heard some interesting ideas about engaging students in their own learning, stemming from a focus on improved school culture. The session was not well attended, I thought and did them a disservice, however, their enthusiasm was infectious and they engaged the audience well.
As always, thank you for reading. If you have missed the other articles in this Education Nation series, you can fidn the full list here.
“We need to find the sweet spot in our teaching.”
– Peter Mader
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
After morning tea and some time in The Playground, I was scheduled to join The Leader stream to hear Peter Mader (@mader_peter) speak about Strategies for bridging the policy / practice divide. I was very much looking forward to this session, as it is a real problem which faces educators everywhere and hearing some strategies for working through the divide that can occur would have been ver valuable.
I say would have been, as Peter, to his credit, was up front at the beginning and said that the abstract from the website for his session is not what his session actually was. This, to be honest, really annoyed me. I had chosen this session, as had everyone else, based on what was written in the abstract. I do not know whether an updated abstract was sent to the organisers and not uploaded, or whether Peter chose not to send an updated abstract, but I felt misled. Despite that, Peter’s session was interesting.
He opened by asking us to discuss in our table groups the question “if you could change any one educational policy for the benefit of student right now, what would it be?” Peter asked someone from each table to share what they came up with and a range of responses and some common themes heard.
Peter identified that there seems to be a common theme across these areas, which is a feeling of disconnect between the policy writers and those who are required to operate within the constraints of the policies. He indicated that he wanted to talk about policies of leadership at the macro level that can affect change at the micro level.
His next comment was that having recently spoken to some newly graduated teachers, he found that there was little to no awareness of the importance of professional associations. He is absolutely correct. From my own experience, in my initial teacher education (ITE) program my peers and I had at the time, and largely still do not, no awareness of the professional associations available. I would qualify that by also noting that no professional associations reached out to us by sending representatives to the university to speak to us or via e-mail with the sole exception of the NSW Teachers Federation.
Peter continued by remarking that we need to find the sweet spot in teaching despite the discord and the uncertainty across the entire education sector about the perceived purposes and goals of education (there is that concept again). He spoke about there being two narratives around education and that they conflict with each other. Peter spoke about the need to co-design policy ahead of the consultation phase, i.e., if stakeholders are engaged in the development process, the consultation is less likely to throw up red flags. Typically, he indicated, the policy is written and given for review without enough time for genuine analysis and feedback to be provided ahead of the implementation, showing that it is a superficial request, with no actual interest in hearing feedback for improvement.
Peter argued that decision makers and policy writers either need to have an education background, or to have trusted and experienced people around them who have an education background. I have heard arguments on this topic from both sides, however, and it is an interesting subject. Changing tack, Peter then said that to affect change, educators need three things; relevance, reason, and resources.
South Australia, Peter’s home state, is the state with the worst cash balance in the country he told us and so questions about how to fund education were serious and relevant. Politicians, he noted, often talk about the economy vis-a-vis what it should look like and how they will achieve that goal. However, they rarely connect education to the future by talking about what education should look like (purpose and goals again?) with any real substance, nor do they talk about how they will achieve that goal with any real substance. There is even less talk about to feed into that change and improvement with regards to ITE.
Peter then introduced the first of the narratives that he mentioned earlier, which was the role that media commentary plays in education, yet that it also has no real connection to schools. He posited that the clickbait headlines surrounding things like NAPLAN and PISA results induce a sense of nostalgia in adults, a feeling of back in my day… and a panic that there is a need to return back to basics and drill and skill. This, for me, was echoing comments and sentiments that Brett Salakas had made in his presentation to the Rethinking Reform delegates earlier in the morning. If our results are falling, then we need to copy what the top countries are doing because it clearly works seems to be the prevailing mindset impressed upon us by the media in its educational commentary.
Peter phrased it as the media and older generations wanting us to subscribe to a better version of the 1960s. He noted that there were some good things in the 1960s, but that we have of course moved on from then and that there were some definite poor practices in the 1960s.
Given I was born in 1983, I will have to take his word for it.
Peter quoted Ball from 2008 who apparently said that “learning is re-rendered as a cost-effective policy outcome and achievement is merely a set of productivity targets.” While the media give the impression that education is all about NAPLAN and PISA, Malcolm Turnbull has said that “[t]here has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today and there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian.“
Peter then asked us, in our table groups, to discuss what it is that is stopping us from shifting away from the obsession with standardised testing. There were, again, some very interesting ideas that came from the room.
My next note simply says YouTube: Future of Work which at the time, I must have thought would be enough information to find the video that we either were shown or that was discussed. Unfortunately, there are several videos on YouTube with that phrase in the title. I have reached out to Peter to find out who the speaker in the video was to help me narrow it down and will update this article when he confirms that for me.
Peter rounded out by commenting that learning is for life and accordingly, it should be meaningful, that we need to focus son assessment rather than testing, which are distinctly different from each other and asked us if there was, perhaps, a third option.
I was disappointed that the session was not what it was advertised as being and there was some frustration in the room about that. Speaking with one delegate, he was very disappointed as he had chosen The Leader specifically as it fits with his own Professional Development Plan and the goals of the school he is in at the moment, but that this session, as with many of the others in The Leader were a let down and that he had wasted the school’s money and two days of professional development. Overall, for me personally, whilst I was disappointed that it was not what it was advertised as being, I did find it an interesting, though at times frustrating, session.
“We need to point out that there is much to celebrate about Australian Schools.”
-Professor Geoff Masters
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
The opening keynote for Education Nation in the Rethinking Reform stream by Brett Salakas was a very interesting and engaging start with some very interesting and valid points raised. Brett commented to me during lunch that it was very daunting being the first speaker at a new conference, and having Professor Geoff Masters (@GMastersACER) sitting front and center for the presentation amplified that.
Professor Masters’ was speaking to the title of Addressing the Five Key Challenges in School Education that Matter to You and ostensibly, he was going to be focusing on five areas. The first area that Professor Masters addressed was the declining PISA results, both relative and in real terms, of Australian students. This, he indicated, has been a trend that has been identifiable since 2000.
The mathematics results are particularly disturbing, with a significant, sharp drop year on year for each iteration of PISA from 2000 to 2012. Professor Masters commented, though it may have been stating the obvious, that we need to arrest and reverse this downward trend in results. Additionally, there is a growing disparity in schools creating a situation wherein it is becoming more and more important which school students attend. Someone failed conference etiquette and asked a question mid-presentation about where the variation lies and Professor Masters acknowledged that the total variance in results can be broken into differences between schools (twenty percent) and differences within schools (eighty percent).
Disturbingly, there is also a growing number of students who are not meeting the minimum standards; fourteen percent are not meeting the reading minimum standards, twenty percent are not meeting the mathematics minimum standards. In comparison, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Korea’s rates are between three and nine percent. The point was made that not only are our results falling year on year; but that the gap between our results and the countries around us is growing each year as they continue to improve.
Professor Masters then dived into some Census data which indicates that one in five students are currently developmentally vulnerable due to being locked into a trajectory of long-term low achievement. I, unfortunately, was not quick enough to snap the photo, or write down the specific context, however, so I would appreciate confirmation or clarification if someone did note it down (I have reached out to Professor Masters on Twitter and am awaiting confirmation), but my memory is that the likelihood of someone being the one in five student varies depending on Indigenous status, gender and socio-economic status (SES).
For Indigenous students, they have (if my memory of the context in which the figures were provided is correct) a 42.1% of being the one in five, which is just over double that of a non-Indigenous student, who has a 20.8% chance. The gender data shows that males have a 28.5% chance of being the one in five compared to females with a 15.1% chance whilst SES status plays a role as well. A low-SES student has a 32.6% chance of being the one in five student which is in stark contrast to their high-SES counterparts, who have a 15.5% chance. Professor Masters noted that this data has not historically been collected and so we are unable to identify the long-term historical trends, but that those factors will bear watching over future iterations of the census.
The next issue raised was the status of the teaching profession, wherein it is now a less attractive career option, and the distribution of offers to Year Twelve students in relation to their ATAR attainment. Masters’ graph shows that for Science and Engineering degrees, offers are typically made at the upper end of the achievement scale, whilst for education, they are being made, typically, in the low to mid-range achievement bands. Professor Masters noted that in those countries regarded as having high-quality education systems vis-a-vis their performance in PISA, they have typically put in place policies to help them draw teachers from the upper bands of academic achievement and that we need to take steps here in Australia to arrest the current downward spiral of where we draw our pre-service teachers from academically. This sounds like a laudable goal, however, as I have indicated previously, Pasi Sahlberg writes that there is very little discernible relationship between the academic achievement of a student and their eventual efficacy as a teacher.
We should, perhaps, be focusing on addressing the long-term decline in the number of students electing to undertake the hard subjects such as Physics, Advanced Mathematics and Advanced English and Engineering. It was at this point that Professor Masters made a comment, the underlying concept of which, has been a common thread in each of the sessions across the various event streams and the Twitter conversations.
“Is it time we rethink, entirely, the structure of curriculum?”
I want to hold the exploration of the underlying thought to a separate article, as it is a thread which makes the entire Education Nation experience, for me, a cohesive one, however he included, in that comment, a further questioning of the way in which education, especially in the secondary education sector, is restrained to silos, with subject areas being held separate, and in many schools have individual staffrooms and faculty areas, and rarely, it seems from the outside, collaborate on planning, assessment or teaching and learning. Professor Masters told the room that by the time a child is in Year Three, the top ten percent of students, academically, are approximately five years ahead vis-a-vis learning outcomes.
My over-the-back-fence-neighbour works in Early Childhood and we have had some conversations about the need for more work in the pre-Kindergarten area to identify and work with those children who have learning difficulties to ensure that when they start Kindergarten, they have the best possible chance of achieving learning outcomes, which was a sentiment that Professor Masters closed his presentation by speaking about and agreeing with.
At this point, the MC, Simon Dorrington, opened things up to questions from the floor, which were, unfortunately, rather long-winded and convoluted comments, rather than short and to the point questions. Simon closed out the session by adding to Professor Masters’ argument that we need to regain the time in the teaching day that has been lost to the extra-curricular and what he termed support activities, many of which should be the responsibility of the parents, something I personally agree with.
The first session, consisting of Brett Salakas’ and Professor Masters’ presentations, was a great launchpad for the Rethinking Reform stream of the conference. There was a lot of head-nodding going on throughout both presentations, and a level of excitement slowly developing. I would very much like to hear from you if you were also in the room for either presentation and your perspectives and thoughts on them. As always, though, thank you for reading. The next article will cover morning tea and my experiences and thoughts on The Playground.
“What works in Singapore, works because we are Singaporean.”
– Brett quoting a Singaporean Principal he worked under
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
As you read this, I would like you to consider what you believe the purpose and goal of the education system should be. I will openly admit that I am a conference junky. I have written previously about my love of conferences and being in the same room as those on the same page as yourself, however, I had forgotten how tiring, both mentally and physically, they are. I am sitting in my hotel room using my phone to hotspot so I can write this, with Pink Floyd playing, still buzzing from conversations I have had, connections I have made and people from my online professional learning network (PLN) that I have known for some time, but never met in person.
I am going to structure my Education Nation series of review articles slightly differently to review articles from previous conferences. Ordinarily, I would write the review of each session, weaving general feedback on the conference event as a whole throughout, as it fit the session. For this set of articles, I want to focus on the speaker and their message; and instead, will keep those overview reflections to a specific article, which will be the final article in the series, to act as a conclusion piece. If you have managed to miss the pre-Education Nation articles that I wrote, you can find those in a consolidated list of the articles for this event by clicking here.
As I wrote in a previous article, I had the opportunity, unlike most attendees, to move between the conference streams. My first session was a part of the Rethinking Reform stream and was Brett Salakas (@Mrsalakas) speaking under the title PISA Pipe Dreams. Brett opened by asking people to share what they were learning, questions, critiques and ideas via Twitter using the conference hashtag, #EduNationAu, which many people did. Brett then continued by telling us what he was not.
This was followed by a brief historical overview of PISA and its purpose, which he summarised as being a way of helping governments monitor education system achievements and the impacts of education. By giving all of the students, who are the same age, the same test, it sounds like it should be a good way of tracking trends and variances between countries. Yet, Brett says, it is actually that which makes it rather murky. Students sit a two-hour written test which covers scientific literacy, mathematics, reading and financial literacy.
What this means is that the state of our education system in comparison to other countries is based on a test which takes place once every three years, and allows students roughly thirty minutes for each of the four sections, which then packages the data up in neat statistical bundles which are then able to be misused and misrepresented in the media, creating a sense of fear and concern, and a backlash, against the state of the education system in Australia.
These headlines create this sense of worry about the state of our education system, the quality of our teachers and the worry about how we will remedy the situation. Often, it is easy to look to the leaders of the PISA results and ask the question “what are they doing? Let’s do that” and attempt to translate education policies and practices directly into the Australian context, without thinking through a range of issues that arise in doing so.
Brett then made the quote that I have included at the top of the article, which points out that we need to take into account the cultural context of what is happening and why it is working. Brett related that when he taught in Singapore the entire education system was streamed by ability groupings into the top, middle, and bottom third of academic results and students were taught and trained to perform to a high standard. Then he made a comment, told us about a standard practice which blew my mind and which would never happen here in Australia.
“My Year One ESL class in Singapore finished at nine pm on a Monday night.”
Stop and think about what that means for a moment.
Year One students, most of whom will be either six or seven years old, lining up waiting for their teacher to arrive, beginning class and then not finishing until a time when I would like to be in bed. Presumably, there is going to be a period of travel time before those children arrive at home, and then actually get to bed and then fall asleep. That practice would cause uproar and outrage if suggested here in Australia. We need to find a solution that works here, for us, in our context.
Brett continued by pointing out a few facts about PISA, which he made quite clear were all confirmable on the PISA website. He reminded us that this fear-mongering and panic is based upon, essentially, a thirty-minute test (for each subject area PISA concerns itself with) and that there are a number of factors in play that are not typically talked about. He spoke about research by Alma Harris (@AlmaHarris1) that indicated many Nordic countries exclude migrants and refugees from the PISA testing and that some research shows many Asian countries prepare their students for PISA in a period of time immediately beforehand, in an effort to boost their results.
An interesting point was then raised, which I ha not thought about, but which does make sense, which was that although the PISA tests are written in one language, they do need to be translated into a range of languages as required for each country. The very act of translating the questions can have an impact on the complexity of the question, from a cultural point of view, as well as an academic perspective.
The next issue is a phenomenon referred to as the Wild Geese of Korea, or, in Korean, Gireogi appa (literally ‘goose dad’), wherein Korean families are sending the mother and child to a Western country, to receive a Western education, perceived to be of a higher standard than a Korean education, whilst the father remains in Korea, in a small unit.The terminology applied within Korea regarding this is quite complex and structured. However, this phenomenon raises a very important question; what are the Koreans seeing about education in the Western countries, that we are not?
This segued into an amusing clip from the movie 300, the tale of King Leonidas of Spart and his eventual defeat during the Battle of Thermopylae. This clip, however, had the audio in French, with some clever subtitles. My thanks to Kelly Hollis for finding the original link
This clip was the entry point into a discussion about the attributes we actually would like to see developed in our students. Brett related an incident that occurred at his school during an athletics carnival; specifically, the Girls one hundred metre final, which would determine the age champion for that year. Brett spoke about two girls who, for their primary education, had ben the two standout athletes, sharing honours across athletics events each year, and that this would be the decider between them. It was a significant event, with lots of parents attending to watch, as happens at sports carnivals and both girls were taking it quite seriously, the eleven-year-old Olympics, as it were.
Only a short distance into the race, one of the two girls hurt herself, pulling a hamstring. Her rival had the advantage from the start and had pulled ahead and so was not aware of what had happened, however, the other girls all stopped to check and see if she was ok. Eventually, the leading girl realised something was not right and turned around to look. Upon seeing that her rival had stopped, injured, she made a choice. Instead of continuing to take the win and the title of age champion, she went back to her rival, her friend, and did what she could to help and show concern. Brett then made a poignant statement; “every parent there at that moment knew exactly, from what had happened, why they sent their daughter to this school. That choice, that act made it clear.”
The education system in Singapore and the other high-performing countries on PISA tests work in their context as there are specific attributes which are being looked for. We need to decide what attributes we want to see in our children. Conveniently, Brett had an Answergarden for us to indicate the attributes that we feel are important.
We need to stop cherry picking aspects of education systems from countries which obtain high results on PISA testing and have a real conversation about what we, as a nation, want for our students from out education system. The countries which perform, and have performed, highly on those international standardised testing have historically put educational policies in place many years before they have had their purple patch which has focused on enabling their goal for education to be achieved. Correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that there has ever been a national conversation in Australia about the purpose and goals of education and how we go about achieving those goals*. Many key attributes that show up on the word cloud above, resilience, collaboration, confidence, are, Brett says, nationally imbued and are seen as typical Aussie characteristics; mateship, innovation, a fair go etc.
“Don’t curse the darkness, be the light”
-Attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt
This quote was Brett’s final message. We need to act as beacons of light and positivity in education to stave off the darkness and the negativity, and connecting with other educators, those who are working to shine the light, is a fantastic way of helping to do that. Brett shared ten (it was actually twelve) educators who he sees as great educators to follow.
My key takeaway from Brett’s session was that we need to have the why and what conversation about education, and work to gain some sort of consensus about education’s goal in order to stop the cycle of ideological-based policies and provide some consistency of expectation and purpose. The over-reliance on PISA as a measure needs to be re-evaluated as well, as this feeds into the media fear-mongering about education and influences, negatively, the education conversation and perception.
What was your key takeaway from Brett’s keynote? What do you believe the purpose and goal of education should be in Australia? Let me know, either by commenting on this article or by tweeting me.
The next article in this Education Nation series will look at the presentation by Professor Geoff Masters (@GMastersACER).
As always, thank you for reading. IF you have missed any articles in this series, please click here.
*In the time since I published this article, I have been reminded of the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, which I had forgotten about. Whilst it does provide a potential launchpad for a national conversation about the purposes and goals of education, it was not, in itself, a national conversation, given that it came out of a meeting of politicians.
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
Education Nation is fast approaching, and this time next week, the final session of the conference will be concluding. One of the most hotly anticipated events of Education Nation is The Great Debate between Dr. David Zyngier (@dzyngier) and Dr. Kevin Donelly (@ESIAuatralia). Last week, I published an article from an interview with Dr. Zyngier, which was widely read. Dr. Zyngier is speaking on the side of public education at The Great Debate, and there are some strong arguments available for him to draw upon. This article will be an exploration of Dr. Donnelly’s responses to a series of questions similar to those presented to Dr. Zyngier. As with the previous interviews,
Dr. Donnelly provided a short summary of his stance on the issue of public versus private education. He posits that the claims that private schooling systems, e.g. Catholic and independent schools, are over-funded and cause residualisation of government schools, particularly those with disadvantaged students, is incorrect. He cites the simple fact that non-government schools receive significantly less public funding than government schools. For example, the below graph shows the relative expenditure across the two sectors and highlights the disparate nature of the level of public funding.
Dr. Donelly also decries the claim that private schools only achieve strong learning outcomes comparative to public schools because they take the best students, noting that public schools are not truly open to all. This is a valid point to make as there is a range of public schools, particularly secondary school, which are selective based on academic results, requiring a certain academic ability for enrolment into those schools, often requiring prospective students to sit an entrance exam. Additionally, Dr. Donnelly notes that many public schools are situated in suburbs which are classed as high socio-economic areas (SES) and are therefore unaffordable for many people. Linked to both arguments, Dr. Donnelly notes that the socio-economic status of a student’s family is only ten to eighteen percent of the overall factors influencing learning outcomes.
I have noted in previous articles in this series the recent discussions that have appeared in the media regarding teacher quality, and admission to and the quality of, initial teacher education (ITE) programs. Dr. Donnelly’s views on this are somewhat similar to Dr. Zyngier’s views. Dr. Donnelly cites Parsi Sahlberg (@pasi_sahlberg), a Finnish educational researcher who found that although half of the first-year ITE students are drawn from the fifty-one to eighty percent range, rendering the argument that pre-service teachers should be drawn from the academic top thirty percent, invalid. Sahlberg has also commented that “a good step forward would be to admit that the academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers.” Dr. Donnelly also notes a 2012 submission to a Commonwealth inquiry into teacher education by Professor Geoff Masters, who commented that restricting entry to ITE programs to top academic students “…is a blunt approach to improving the selection of teachers and falls well short of international best practice.”
In addition to discussing the prospect of restricting pre-service teachers to those with the top academic results, I asked Dr. Donnelly for his views about a different method of raising the expectations of ITE programs. In Finland, ITE programs are delivered at Masters level, rather than Undergraduate level here in Australia. He explained that research conducted by Andrew Leigh into effective teaching showed that holding a Masters degree does not necessarily equate to being an effective teacher, which seems to be consistent with Pas Sahlberg’s comment mentioned, regarding the fact that there is not a causal link between the academically best teachers and the most effective teachers.
Dr. Donnelly points to Pasi Sahlberg’s findings that a teacher’s commitment and ability to engage and motivate students, along with their communication skills and, of course, subject knowledge are more influential factors in identifying effective teachers. He also points to findings in the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, that the level of the degree, Bachelor or Masters, is not particularly important. What is important is the quality of the ITE program and whether trainee teachers have been properly prepared and are ready to begin teaching in a class on their own. I have written previously about my own ITE program, and I would agree that there is scope for improvement
After discussing the subject of ITE, the interview turned to Finland and our relationship and seeming obsession with modelling the Finnish educational model. Dr. Zyngier is critical of this obsession, noting that Finland’s results in PISA and TIMSS have been falling in recent years. Dr. Donnelly is also critical of the way that educationalists jump on the bandwagon of whichever country is generating the best results in international testing, which has moved between Singapore, Sweden, Finland and is currently Shanghai, particularly given that Finland’s results have been falling as shown in the below images from Trends in the Performance of the Top Performers on PISA 2003-Pisa 2012.
The above image shows that the number of Finnish students performing in the lower levels of PISA mathematics tests has increased significantly. It makes sense, therefore, that the number of Finnish students at the top end has fallen in the same period.
Dr. Donnelly, after acknowledging Finland’s falling results in recent instances of PISA, notes that translating educational characteristics of other countries can be very difficult due to the variation in contexts. This is an interesting comment, and one I look forward to hearing expanded upon further, particularly, I suspect in the presentation by Lila Mularczyk’ (@LilaMularczyk) on day two of Education Nation, where she is examining trends in international education policy and the translation to the Australian context. Dr. Donnelly reminds us that we can learn from international education systems, however, it needs to be evidence based.
Dr. Donnelly co-chaired the National Curriculum Review alongside Professor Kenneth Wiltshire. Given that the National Curriculum has not been implemented nationally I questioned whether or not a National Curriculum should have even been the goal for Australian education. Dr. Donnelly indicated that greater autonomy and flexibility at the local level, should have been the goal, not a one size fits all curriculum that has been torn apart and rebuilt to suit the needs of some states, and implemented as-is by others. Dr. Donnelly points out that under the Australian Constitution, the government does not have a responsibility for school education. Dr. Donnelly believes that “…we should abide by the fact that we have a federal system where all roads do not lead to Canberra.
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the professional learning of teachers around the world. It is free, available at any time and on any range of topics, providing an alternative to the often expensive and/or boring and untargeted professional development sessions that teachers’ typically receive. Dr. Donnelly’s view is that whilst social media has a place, there is no substitute for providing teachers, particularly new-career teachers, with time to learn on the job, receive mentoring, and the time and ability to effectively reflect on and evaluate their own practice.
I asked Dr. Donnelly was his advice to early-career teachers that would help them avoid joining the forty percent of new teachers who are shown to leave the profession within their first five years. His advice was straightforward, yet challenging to implement:
Beware of education fads and do not be drowned in the bureaucratic and the time consuming micromanagement that is being forced on schools. Also, understand that student misbehaviour is on the increase and that a lot of students, especially at the primary school level, are unable to sit still, focus and concentrate for an extended period of time. Most importantly, realise and appreciate that being with young people is a great honour and responsibility, as there is noting more important than teaching – except being a parent.
When I interviewed Professor Masters early last month, I asked him about John Hattie’s comments regarding teachers as researchers and his sentiment was that it is unreasonable to expect teachers to be both highly trained and effective educators; and highly trained and effective educational researchers. It is reasonable, however, to expect teachers to be informed users of research evidence; evidence which should be a consideration for teachers when engaging in the informal research process of evaluative reflection upon their pedagogical practice.
I asked Dr. Donnelly for his views on Hattie’s comments, and he replied that the relationship between researchers in universities and ACER, and classroom teachers, has been fractured. Dr. Donnelly acknowledges that it has been some time since he has been a classroom teacher and that he would love to see the results of academic researchers in the classroom, attempting to implement the practices they promote in their research. He sees a strong connection between theory and practice and would argue that many teachers are capable of undertaking research, which would provide the benefit of the research being grounded in the realities of a classroom.
Dr. Donnelly presents some interesting arguments, and I very much look forward to hearing him speak in The Great Debate. Remember, you can submit your own questions for The Greate Debate by clicking here. If you have not yet registered for Education Nation then click here to register.
For the full list of articles in this series, please click here.
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
Times listed in this article are correct at the time of publishing, but are subject to change.
It is interesting timing, sitting here composing this article, with Education Nation only a week away, considering that the topic for #satchatoz this past weekend was how [do] conferences help us grow professionally. I have been amazed at the response to both my interview with Professor Geoff Masters and the interview with Dr. David Zyngier. I am excited to announce that I have just received the interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly, who is arguing the side of private education in The Great Debate against Dr. Zyngier. You can get involved with The Great Debate by submitting a question for the moderated questions from the floor component of the Debate by clicking here.
Today, however, I want to have a look at the programs for the various conference streams. There is a lot to be excited about on the program for Education Nation, making it difficult to choose a particular stream to be involved in. Of course, each stream has a particular focus and which you will choose will vary according to your context and your needs. I am in the position of being able to move between the event streams thanks to the media pass, and it made for some very difficult choices, as I wanted to engage with at least one session in each stream across the two days.
I have included a copy of the EduNationAu Timetable, which I have put together from the separate programs on the Education Nation website to allow for seeing what was happening at any time and it showed that the events do not necessarily line up in regards to timings for each session. I have chosen the sessions I will be attending according to a few criteria:
The first session I plan to attend is in the Rethinking Reform stream, and will be my first opportunity to hear Brett Salakas (@Mrsalakas) speak. He will be exploring the subject of PISA and the growing fascination with the results and our place in relation to the other OECD member nations. It promises to provide an open and frank exploration of our current relationship with PISA pipe dreams and the cultural contexts involved. Following Brett’s session was my first dilemma.
Do I stay and listen to Professor Geoff Masters (@GMastersACER) identify and discuss the five most important challenges facing schools, or alternatively, head across to the Digital Dimensions stream to hear Simon McKenzie (@connectedtchr) identify if we have just made everything worse with the rollout of technology in schools, from both positive and negative perspectives. Simon’s session promises to be very intriguing and potentially controversial given the explosion of one-to-one and BYOD programs in recent years.
Both options are incredibly appealing, however, in the end, I decided to remain in my seat for Professor Masters’ session. Primarily due to time; both sessions are scheduled to commence at 0940, and though there is typically some fluidity in the actual timings at conferences, I wanted to avoid being that person who enters a room late and then proceeds to become the show as they attempt to find a seat, get there and then set up for the session. I look forward to reading the tweets stemming from Simon’s session, and please, if you write a blog article from that session (or any other), send me the link so that we can re-share it with the wider Education Nation PLN.
After the morning break, I plan to spend the entire second session engaging with one of the deep-dive workshops, The Leader. Specifically, I will be attending the session which examines strategies for bridging the gap when policy and practice diverge, presented by Peter Mader (@Mader_Peter). It is an interesting area to explore, and also a common problem. Educational policy is typically slow to respond to new information and requirements, particularly when it is required to run the gamut of a bureaucracy.
Michael’s session finished and provides me with a ten-minute window to move across to my next session, hearing from Ed Cutherbertson and Prue Gill (@Ed_Cuthbertson and @Prue_G) of Lanyon High School share strategies that teachers are able to utilise in their classroom to provide their students with voice and agency, allowing them to feel valued, and encouraging students to become active participants in their own learning. This session is a lengthy one, which gives me that it will provide a wide range of strategies to assist teachers in building those relationships, in providing the voice and agency to their students. Student voice and agency has been a topic of discussion more and more on social media and there is a body of research building around this issue.
Following the afternoon break, my first choice, actually, it was the first thing I marked down as wanting to attend, is The Great Debate between Dr. David Zyngier (@DZyngier) and Dr. Kevin Donnelly (@ESIAustralia). The debate surrounding public versus private education is a hot one, and both sides have some excellent arguments. I have not heard the two sides facing off in a debate before, and this is sure to be interesting and fiery. I have already published my interview with Dr. Zyngier and tomorrow I aim to publish the interview with Dr. Donnelly. Dr. Donnelly is well known in the media for his provocative statements, and I look forward to engaging with his responses, and to hearing the feedback on the article.
Do not forget to submit your questions about public education versus private education. There is still time!
Though my choices for the final session of day one of Education Nation were guided by The Great Debate, I am genuinely interested in hearing what Teresa Deshon has to say about the role of the pastoral curriculum in her case study; People of Character – Your Best Self. The academic curriculum takes the majority of our teaching time and Teresa’s question, “…[b]ut what of the pastoral curriculum?” is an excellent one. I am looking forward to hearing the strategies that Teresa and her colleagues have employed to change the focus to the pastoral curriculum, and still maintained the academic curriculum learning outcomes for their students.
At the end of day one of Education Nation, I will be attending the live #AussieEd event at Kirribilli Club (view map), tickets to which are still available. It will be my first AussieEd event, and am looking forward to it.
Day two begins bright and early, and pending Ministerial commitments, will begin for those in the Rethinking Reform forum, with an Address and Question and Answer session with the incumbent Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham (@birmo). I requested a pre-Education Nation interview with Minister Birmingham, which was accepted, however, with the announcement of the impending Federal election made shortly thereafter, I daresay I ended up down the priority list as neither myself nor my speaker liaison heard back regarding the interview. I am very curious to hear about his views on the future of education in Australia, as well as what questions from the floor will be accepted and how they will be answered.
The timing of Minister Birmingham’s address meant that I am unable to attend any other event streams in the morning session as I would be arriving midway through, which is never pleasant. That said, Lila Mularczyk’s (@LilaMularczyk) subsequent presentation examining trends in education policy and the translation to the Australian context will be very interesting. I feel that this session will follow on nicely from Brett Salakas’ day one keynote address. Both keynotes will be examining the Australian relationship with global educational systems, from slightly different perspectives. I look forward to seeing what crossover conclusions the two share.
I will be spending a significant portion of day two in the Rethinking Reform session, as returning from the morning will see me settling in for two sessions which I suspect will provide a lot of food for thought. Murat Dizdar will commence the session with an examination of how some schools in the NSW public education system are adopting the national education reform platform a discussion of the operational lessons that can be taken from those schools.
Following on from Murat, is Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire, presenting an exploration of the future of curriculum in Australia. Dr. Wiltshire is not likely to hold back, having been openly critical of the national curriculum and the process through which it has been developed. Dr. Wiltshire lays blame on the doorstep of ACARA itself, specifically the structure and functioning, labelling it a largely discredited body within education circles. I am very much looking forward to hearing him speak. As an early career teacher, the future of the curriculum is a rather important topic for me and my students, both now and in the future.
After Dr. Wiltshire’s presentation, I plan to take some time out. His speech will finish at roughly the same time as the concurrent sessions from The Leader, The Learner, and The Educator, and with all due respect to Phillip Cooke (@sailpip), who is presenting immediately after Dr. Wiltshire; a discussion of the HSC and how it prepares students for life after school is not in my area of interest at the moment. I believe that I would gain more benefit from taking some time to refresh my brain, to re-engage with my notes, get some writing done, explore The Playground and network and meet up with some educators that I have chatted with on Twitter in the past.
Following the lunch break, I will have the opportunity to hear Olivia O’Neil speak in the Digital Dimensions forum about redeveloping a school by engaging the emerging Gen Y teachers. I am looking forward to hearing Olivia speak, as I know a lot of what has been occurring at the school she is Principal of, Brighton Secondary College from conversations with Jeremy LeCornu (@MrLeCornu), whom I heard speak originally at FlipConAus last year. I am looking forward to hearing about a journey of which I already know a little bit from the perspective of the Principal, and the challenges that were faced from that vantage point and how they were dealt with.
I plan to remain in the Digital Dimensions forum to hear Leanne Steed and Elizabeth Amvrazis as they examine the purpose of education through a lens of technology-laden classrooms and the way in which technology can empower our students.
I will then be moving back to the Rethinking Reform forum to hear someone whom I admire greatly, Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) as she speaks about the relationship between the focus on using evidence-based pedagogies and the feeling of empowerment or disempowerment by teachers. Evidence-based pedagogies are another hot topic (I quite enjoy reading Greg Ashman’s (@greg_ashman) articles in this area). If the discussions about performance-based pay for teachers come to fruition, it will be an issue of even greater importance, and make the difference, perhaps, between teachers keeping and losing their positions.
The final Education Nation session on my agenda is part of The Educator stream, and I have chosen it specifically as it is a presentation on a topic that I am not still somewhat skeptical about. The Hewes family will be closing out The Educator with a workshop giving deeper insight into Project Based Learning (PBL). The workshop is slated to allow participants to design a PBL project, ostensibly, I presume, to take back to our classroom and implement. I am not entirely sure why I am skeptical about PBL. I suspect that a lot of it is most likely misconceptions, and I have heard some local horror stories about PBL gone wrong. That said, I am looking forward to engaging with this workshop, and hopefully coming away with a new understanding and appreciation for PBL and its place in my pedagogical toolkit.
That, as I mentioned, is the final session for Education Nation 2016. I am very much looking forward to the two days and fully expect that I will need the ensuing few days to recover mentally. What are your expected highlights for the event? Let me know via Twitter using #EduNationAu which will be the main event hashtag.
As always, thank you for reading, and stay tuned tomorrow for the interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly.
For the full list of articles in this series, please click here.
“I am on the record stating that if we as a nation want to improve the standard of our teaching we must make teaching harder to access as a career. However, we have too many universities using teaching courses as a cash cow to cover the costs due to diminishing federal funding of research.”
-Dr. David Zyngier. E-Mail correspondence, 2016
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
All quotes in this article are taken direct from the interview with Dr. Zyngier unless otherwise noted. All interpretations of Dr. Zyngier’s views are my own and any misinterpretation also mine. The Interview with Dr. Zyngier has been included for the sake of transparency. Aclarification article has been published here.
In addition to being granted an e-mail interview with Professor Geoff Masters, I have been privileged to gain an e-mail interview with Dr. David Zyngier, currently a Senior Lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy with the Faculty of Education at Monash University. There are a number of presentations at Education Nation which promise to generate significant food for thought, and which I suspect will generate heated (yet hopefully constructive) discussion and debate within Education circles.
Potentially one of the most interesting sessions scheduled, certainly perhaps one of the most provocative, is The Great Debate: Australian democracy at risk – the future of Australia’s education system, a moderated debate on the age-old topic of public vs private education, taking place within the Rethinking Reform conference stream. This debate will feature Dr. Zyngier arguing the case for public education and Dr. Kevin Donnelly arguing the case of private education. I am expecting a highly interesting debate, particularly during the (moderated) questions from the floor component. Given that there is sure to be a capacity crowd, I asked Dr. Zyngier to provide a short summary of his position on the issue.
Dr. Zyngier’s view is that the continuing rise in education funding being provided to private education is having the effect of denying a fair go to the students who need the most support in favour of students who are blessed to be born into socio-culturally advantaged families. This is a significant factor in the increasing socio-economic divide between the working class and the upper class. Ultimately, this issue may result in public schools turning into “…ghettos or sinks of disadvantage leading to an ever increasing decline in educational achievement in those schools as the flight of cultural capital takes its toll.”
The quality of teachers and of initial teacher education (OTE) programs has come under fire again over the last twelve months, to the point that just this week, a grammar training manual has been launched for teachers, again prompting a wave of backlash and criticism against the poor quality of teachers. When asked about the quality of teachers and of calls for minimum standards for entry to ITE programs, Dr. Zyngier pointed out that “Teacher education is apparently the most reviewed area of society undertaken by state and federal governments with on average at least one each year over the past 30 odd years!” In fact, a brief switch to Google Scholar returned over seventeen thousand results with the required keywords teacher education research Australia with the articles.
“Each review makes the same basic recommendations to improve ITE – student teachers need more time in the classroom and more practical experience – but the funding required to do this is never forthcoming.”
During the last few years, a number of articles have been published in the media calling for better teachers and higher quality ITE programs, particularly during the period of time when Christopher Pyne was the Federal minister for Education, though it has continued since he left that role. In Dr. Zyngier’s view, it is not the quality of teachers that is necessarily the problem, but the quality of the teaching. Dr. Zyngier’s position is that the general public have heard successive Federal Ministers for Education, beginning with Julia Gillard and continuing with Peter Garret, Christopher Pyne, and the incumbent Simon Birmingham, quote from Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning (summary here) that the main influence on a child’s academic outcome is the teacher.
Dr. Zyngier observes that teacher impact makes up to twenty-five percent of the difference, which, though a significant impact, is not as significant as we are led to believe from Professor Hattie’s work (as seen in this article). One clear source, in my view at least, of improving the quality of teachers and the quality of teaching, is the ITE programs from which our teaching force gain their qualifications. Dr. Zyngier indicated he is on record as having stated that “…if we as a nation want to improve the standard of our teaching we must make teaching harder to access as a career.”
It is a sentiment I can agree with as there were a number of pre-service teachers in my own ITE program who openly admitted they were only there because mum and dad told them they had to get a job or a degree, and so they took the easy option. It is an indication of the rigorousness of teacher ITE programs that they are seen as being an easy option. There have been discussions about raising the minimum tertiary entrance scores (currently the ATAR), however, Dr. Zyngier indicates that this change should be made in conjunction with aptitude testing. Personally, I believe that there are changes required. However, my concern is that the personality and aptitude of a nineteen-year-old is not indicative, necessarily of the kind of teacher they will be at the age of thirty. It would, I suspect, serve to screen out some people who are categorically unsuitable to the teaching profession or those who are entering into ITE programs purely because they have told they need to get a degree or a job. Whilst I acknowledge that medicine is a different field requiring some different character traits, I believe that an examination of the entry into medicine programs would be a useful process to guide restructuring entry requirements for ITE courses.
Dr. Zyngier is a proponent of ITE programs being at the Masters level (as is the case in Finland), rather than remaining at the current Bachelor level, Though I am not sure about that, I can certainly understand the perspective, but I wonder, given the number of classroom teachers we currently have with postgraduate qualifications listed (this is shown in all public school annual reports), what impact this would have on teacher recruitment. Further, Dr. Zyngier’s view is that ITE programs should include a research component to educate teachers how to engage with and evaluate education research for their own practice. The added challenge to this is to ensure equitable access opportunities for those from under-represented communities, creating an additional layer of complexity in the process.
I agree wholeheartedly with the belief that a research component should be a requirement for ITE programs. Completing the Honours course as part of my own ITE program, though incredibly challenging, was rewarding and provided a very different perspective to research and the processes which researchers undertake as part of their work. This ability to engage with and discern quality research, understand the results and conclusions and implement them within a teacher’s specific context is particularly important given the importance of establishing the basic framework around which the entire education system is structured; the ability to read, write and understand use numeracy principles.
Finland has a high-performing educational systems vis-a-vis the OECD PISA and TIMMS testing regimes and therefore is often looked to as a beacon of educational hope. Given the disparate nature of the educational contexts in Finland Australia, is it realistic, or even fair, to uphold Finland’s educational system as something we should aspire to here in Australia? Dr. Zyngier acknowledges that Finland is very different to Australia, not least in regards to climate, geographical size, and population. The key difference, however, lies in what Dr. Zyngier terms the policy trajectory.
Education policies in Finland are a non-political issue, being determined by education experts informed by evidence-based research. This is in stark contrast to education policy in Australia, where each new government, and even successive Education Ministers during a Government’s term in office, work to make their mark on education through either ideological or political policies. Again, in contrast to this, education policy in Finland was, and is, based upon equity first, which through a range of other policies, has led to a high-quality education system.
Teachers in Finland are highly valued. Dr. Zyngier points out that this does not equate to highly paid. The system also trusts teachers, allowing them to teach. Dr. Zyngier also wrote that privately run schools are rare (approximately two percent of primary and middle schools) and that if they charge additional fees, their public funding is stripped. Dr. Zyngier also indicated that Teacher unions are heavily involved in education and act as a significant resource for both policy and practice. This last point sounds very alien to me. As a public school student in the early 1990s, my recollection is of regular strikes and an ongoing sense of frustration and some anger from my parents towards the union due to the number of strikes and the impact it had on our education. Fast forward to today and it feels like the NSW Teachers Federation is seen as outdated and useless by many colleagues, with “what do they do for us?” being an oft-repeated critique. A Teachers Federation that has a strong, healthy and positive working relationship with the Government and which contributes, as a partner, in the policy-making process sounds like a great environment to work in.
Dr. Zyngier notes that the driving emphasis in the Finnish education system has been an equitable education for all students whereas in Australia, it appears that the impetus is on quality outcomes with equity a distant second-place priority. This is played out in the choices parents have as to which school to send their child to. Dr. Zyngier indicates that almost all children attend the local suburban school in Finland, whereas in Australia there is currently a three-tiered educational system. Whilst there is the option of the local comprehensive school fully funded by the public, parents may also choose from schools which receive the majority of their funding from the public (typically most Catholic schools and low-fee religious schools), as well as elite independent schools which receive less than fifty percent of their funding from the public.
The subject of school funding is a particularly lively topic of discussion at the moment, with the impending Federal election and the promises made by both major parties about the way in which they will fund education. My personal view is that education is a basic right of all children and should be free to all, per Article Twenty-Eight of the United Nation’s Conventions on the Rights of the Child. I have issues with independent schools who charge exorbitant enrollment and tuition fees and still receive government funding. The entire staff at my current school would receive an average salary of just over AUD$80,000 each based on just the Year Five and Year Six student enrollments at one local independent school, never mind the rest of the enrollment fees from Kindergarten to Year Four at that school. Whilst I do not have a problem with independent schools per se, I do not believe they should receive any public funding, those funds should be reserved for, dare I say it, the public schools.
The educational system that is often presented as an alternative model is that of Singapore, one of the so-called Asian Tigers (along with Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taiwan). Dr. Zyngier points out that though the high results achieved in PISA and TIMMS are discussed, how those results are achieved is not. He continued by pointing out that research indicates that almost all students attend intensive afternoon cramming schools in addition to their regular schooling and private tutors. Furthermore, research indicates that these schools are typically reserved for the elite, while in Shanghai they “…actively exclude lower performing rural students whose parents do not have the necessary residency permits that will enable them to attend…”
Interestingly, and disturbingly, students who are adjudged to be under-performing in class, are often asked to stay home on the day of testing, which is a phenomenon we have seen in Australia in relation to NAPLAN testing.
Cultural attributes have rarely been a factor in conversations or articles I have read regarding educational impacts, however, the research has shown some interesting results. On standardised testing, students from Chinese backgrounds have been found to achieve higher results than their Australia, American or European-borne peers. Dr. Zyngier notes the implication that cultural attributes are potentially more significant than previously thoughts, indicating that it is not the school or the teacher having the most significant impact on a student’s academic outcomes, but the family.
When I began my ITE, the Australian Curriculum was in the burgeoning stages of its implementation. When it was introduced to us during those early stages, it made a certain kind of sense; one country, one curriculum. When asked if a national curriculum should have been a goal, Dr. Zyngier pointed out that Canada and the USA, two countries of comparable physical size and political structure to Australia, do not have a national curriculum. He also commented that the impetus behind the apparent importance of the creation and adoption of the national curriculum was never made clear.
His view is that nationally agreed competencies and skills should be of higher importance than concrete factual knowledge “…which was the subject of the overtly political review led by Donnelly & Wiltshire in 2014.” The result of the review was predetermined by the selection of Donnelly and Wiltshire:
“…cultural warriors…their selection by then [Federal] Minister [for Education] Pyne. They found too much emphasis on Asia, Indigenous Australia, the Environment and not enough reference to Australia’s European and Christian heritage, a lack of focus on the basics, and too much faddish constructivism.”
Social media is prevalent now as a source of free and readily available professional learning. I personally find Twitter to be incredibly useful as a source of inspiration, feedback on practice, a source of ideas and a way of staying in touch with research. I do, however, acknowledge that is should not be the only source of professional learning or development, nor should is it necessarily designed to replace face-to-face mentoring and professional development opportunities. Dr. Zyngier agrees that there is a role for social media and online courses as part of a teacher’s ongoing professional development. However, the needs of individual teachers vis-a-vis professional development are varied and more support and time needs to be made available to teachers to allow them to adequately access those opportunities, whether this is working alongside a mentor, visiting other schools, online courses or attending a university course. I have seen on Twitter, some teachers talking about observational rounds, wherein teachers observe each others practice to provide feedback on a predetermined goal.
The media have been consistently reporting in recent years (for example; here, here and here) that approximately forty percent of new teachers are leaving the teaching profession within the first five years. I asked Dr. Zyngier what advice he would give teachers embarking on their EdVenture so that they do not join the forty percent. He responded that teaching is only for those who can commit to working very hard, very long hours, with a high workload and who can handle being blamed for societal failings and problems. Enjoying working with children is, of course, a must. This is advice I can certainly agree with, and from conversations that I have had with other educators, it would certainly appear to be quite sound advice.
I hope that you found this article as interesting as to read as I found it to write. I also hope that you get along to Education Nation in two weeks time, at Luna Park, to hear what is sure to be an interesting and thought-provoking conference. If you have not yet done so, I would also recommend you consider attending the live AussieEd event which is being held at Kirribilli Club after the conclusion of Day One of Education Nation.
As always, thank you for reading and keep an eye out for the Education Nation conversation on Twitter under #EduNationAu.
For the full list of articles in this series, please click here,
“There are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.”
– Professor Geoff Masters. E-Mail correspondence, 2016
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
All interpretations of Professor Masters’ views are my own and any misinterpretation also mine. The Interview with Professor Masters has been included for the sake of transparency.
After I had accepted the invitation to attend Education Nation in order to write a series of review articles about the event, I asked if it would be possible to conduct a series of pre-conference interviews via e-mail with some of the speakers. I was privileged to have been granted an e-mail interview with Professor Geoff Masters AO, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) as well as head of ACER’s Centre for Assessment Reform and Innovation.
In developing the questions for Professor Masters, I felt that it would be remiss of me to not take advantage of the opportunity to ask his opinions about statements by Professor John Hattie in April 2015, where Professor Hattie indicated that he felt classroom teachers should leave education researcher to trained researchers. I recall there being quite the uproar on social media as a result of Professor Hattie’s remarks, with a great number of educators commenting that there is no reason they cannot engage with research.
Professor Masters’ view is that it is unreasonable to expect teachers to be both highly trained and effective educators; and highly trained and effective educational researchers. It is reasonable, however, to expect teachers to be informed users of research evidence; evidence which should be a consideration for teachers when engaging in the informal research process of evaluative reflection upon their pedagogical practice.
The title of the article in which Profess Hattie’s statement was published was certainly clickbait and as with most instances of clickbait, upon reading further, the statements were not as provocative as at first glance. Indeed, Professor Masters’ response to this question implies that Hattie’s sentiment that teachers should leave the research to the researchers is reasonable. Indeed, when you read further in the article, where Professor Hattie is reported as also having said “I want to put the emphasis on teachers as evaluators of their impact. Be skilled at that,” I find it difficult to disagree.
I cannot speak to the level of training that other classroom teachers have received in research. Personally, having only received an introduction to educational research through the Honours program I completed as part of my initial teacher education (ITE) (delivered by Dr. Nicole Mockler), I do not feel that I would be able to put together a large-scale strong and rigorous research project on my own, whilst also managing the day-to-day requirements of teaching and evaluating the effectiveness of my practices. That said, I do feel that I have had enough training through the Honours program to enable me to read and utilise the outcomes of research to inform my reflections, or to work with a researcher to conduct more formal research.
Professor Masters further noted that high levels of training and proficiency are required for certain types of research, which dovetails neatly with Professor Hattie’s comment that “[r]esearching is a particular skill. Some of us took years to gain that skill.” I do not have years to invest in mastering the skills to become proficient with rigorous, high-quality formalised research. I would prefer, at this point in my career, to invest that time in developing my pedagogical practice. In that frame of reference, leave the research to the researcher is not, in my opinion, as provocative a sentiment as it first sounds.
During the last four years in various staffrooms and study sessions with my colleague pre-service teachers, I have encountered a variety of opinions regarding the relationship and relevance that research has to classroom teachers. Whilst there are pockets of teachers who see the value in the relationship, by and large, educational research appears to be seen as irrelevant. Professor Masters stated that too often pedagogical practice is shaped by beliefs about what should work in the classroom and beliefs shaped by fads and fashions of the day (Greg Ashman has written about various fads and fashions in education including here, here, here and here). Additionally, I have heard the “it worked when I was in school/first started teaching/we did it this way in the 70s and 80s” refrain regularly, with its unstated implication that it will still work.
To improve the quality of classroom teaching, and by extension, the learning outcomes for students, Professor Masters asserts that evidence-based pedagogical practices should be implemented; that is, those pedagogies which have been demonstrated through research and experience to be effective in improving students’ learning outcomes and engagement. The relationship between educational research and classroom teaching is one of sharing, with Professor Masters commenting that “[p]rofessions are defined largely by a shared knowledge base. Educational research is playing an essential role in building that knowledge base.”
It is interesting to note that there is a growing community of educators on various forms of social media sharing with their practices, both the successes and the failures, with each other, and it will be interesting to see what role the online Professional Learning Networks play in contributing to educational research in the future, both as a source of information and participants, and as a vehicle for dissemination.
I asked Professor Masters what his thoughts were on what stood in the way of Australian education and the heights of PISA and TIMMS testing results that seem to be the benchmark by which educational success is judged. I did so with reference to the ITE programs in Finland and the well-publicised reign of Finland at the top of the table in regards to PISA and TIMMS. Professor Masters’ response was relatively simple. High-performing countries, such as Finland and Singapore have raised the status of teachers.
Professor Masters noted that there are a number of high-performing countries who draw their teachers from the upper echelons of secondary education, typically starting with the top thirty percent and some drawing only from the top ten percent, making teaching in those countries, a highly respected and sought after career. This is not the case in Australia, where the required Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is quite low, as highlighted in this article from May 2015 which indicates that almost a third of all pre-service teachers achieved an ATAR of less than sixty. That demonstrates the low respect held for teaching compared with some of the ATARs listed in this article from January 2014, indicating that a to enter a Bachelor of Health Science/Master of Physiotherapy degree at the University of Western Sydney required an ATAR of 99.95, or the combined law degrees at the University of Sydney and the University of NSW, both with minimum ATARs of 99.70.
The school of thought that simply increasing the minimum required ATAR to enter an ITE program will improve the quality of teachers is not necessarily true. This article from October 2015 indicates that only a small percentage of pre-service teachers enter their ITE immediately upon completion of their secondary education. However, I do not believe that Professor Masters is advocating such a simplistic solution. His comment that “…teaching is a highly respected and sought after career and these countries have succeeded in making teaching attractive to their brightest and best schools leavers…” (emphasis mine) indicates to me that it should be merely one component of the admission process.
Professor Masters observed that in teaching in Australia is trending in the other direction to high-performing countries, becoming less attractive, an opinion I agree with. Personally, I am finding that time I would spend planning and preparing for a lesson is being taken up by mandatory training modules which provide no actual training, or on paperwork which is needed for the sake of bureaucracy. I, like many other teachers around the world, am struggling to balance work and family and am left feeling guilty for not spending time with my family. Perversely, I also find myself feeling guilty for not spending the time I want on marking and writing feedback, or on planning and resourcing a lesson, (often with things from my own home or which we have purchased with our own money).
The debate about how to improve the attractiveness of teaching as a profession is an old and ongoing one, and I look forward to hearing it discussed during Education Nation. When asked for his view on how the issue could be resolved, Professor Masters pointed out that it would require a series of deliberate policy decisions on a range of issues including teacher salaries, resourcing, and autonomy; as well as the number of admissions into ITE programs. Professor Masters noted that the countries which appear at the top of the international testing results, including Finland, limit the number of pre-service teachers each year. This article indicates that only one in ten applicants is successful in gaining entry into a Finnish ITE program.
There are also come clear benefits to restricting the number of entrants to ITE programs. You are also restricting the number of graduates, thereby helping to prevent what has happened here in Australia, where there is a glut of teachers who are unable to gain permanent employment due to the high number of graduates each year. Professor Masters’ final point was that an important factor in the perception of teaching is the academic rigour of the ITE program itself. I have written previously about my own ITE (part one can be found here), and I do believe that ITE programs, in general, can be improved, and look forward to hearing about that topic at Education Nation.
NAPLAN, which commences next Tuesday for Year Three, Five, Seven and Nine students Australia-wide, is an incredibly high-stakes testing process which has the potential to cause great anxiety and consternation amongst students, parents, teachers and policy-makers, and which invariably receives a great deal of attention in the media. When asked about why he thought NAPLAN moved from being a low-stakes test to what it is now, Professor Masters wrote that it is part of a deliberate strategy to improve performances through incentives.
These incentives appear to use the carrot and stick method, with some financial rewards for school improvement or, alternatively, the threat of intervention and sanction for poor performance, and yet, the international experience has demonstrated that school behaviour is changed when the stakes attached to tests are increased. This is shown by the annual breaches that occur during the administering NAPLAN tests, including cheating and inappropriate assistance by some teachers, and the way in which many schools prepare their students for NAPLAN, as indicated in this article. Further to this, the public release of NAPLAN allows parents to compare schools and can result in some schools losing students as parents opt to send their child to seemingly ‘better’ schools.
Professor Masters commented that high-quality tests are an important component of education, providing diagnostic data around topics or concepts that require attention, monitoring improvement over time and evaluating the effectiveness and impact of programs and interventions. The widely used Progressive Achievement Test (PAT) is an example of the kind of test that can be an invaluable part of a teacher’s toolkit.
I do agree with Professor Masters about the value of testing. At the beginning of this year, Stage Three students in my school all completed a series of diagnostic tests across reading, spelling, and mathematics. That data was invaluable in identifying those students who need additional assistance in particular areas, and plays a role in developing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for some students, and also for discussions with parents about the student’s results and progress throughout the year. It will also play an important role in quantifying students’ growth across the year when those tests are re-administered at various points throughout the year.
My final question to Professor Masters was his advice to new teachers as they enter their classrooms pressured to ensure that their students to achieve high NAPLAN results. He responded that “[t]here are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.” Professor Masters’ belief that the goal should be to improve our students’ literacy and numeracy levels, and that if we do raise the NAPLAN results, it should be as a result of improved literacy and numeracy levels. The problem, he pointed out, is that NAPLAN scores can be increased in ways that do not lead to better literacy and numeracy levels.
I am grateful to Professor Masters for his time and willingness to engage in the interview process. I very much look forward to hearing him speak at Education Nation, where he is speaking to the title Addressing the five key challenges in school education that matter to you on day one. Professor Masters will also be joining Dennis Yarrington, Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire and Lila Mularczyk for a panel discussion about Student Testing on day two. If you have not yet registered for Education Nation, I would encourage you to do so by clicking here.
As always, my thanks for reading, particularly given the length of this article. Please feel free to contact me with any comments, questions or feedback via the comments section below or on Twitter.
For other articles in the Education Nation series, please click here.
“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
– Attributed to Zora Neale Hurston
When I was asked to take on my current role, I was told that I would be responsible for teaching computer skills and research skills, two sets of skills which contain a vast and diverse array of sub-skills. Due to the vagaries of disruptions to school timetables, I am at slightly different points in my program with each class and while I have moved onto the research skills component of my program with two of my Stage Three classes, but will not be able to do the same with my other two Stage Three classes.
The skill of taking high-quality notes is valuable, both for students (at primary, secondary and tertiary levels) and for the everyday person, requires critical thinking, the ability to understand and summarise, and is a critically important skill for any research, whether academic or social in nature. Yet it is, inexplicably, a skill which we do not often explicitly teach to our students. I will be spending the remainder of this term and some of next term filling this gap. I will be spending time teaching students how to summarise and synthesise information into useful notes, how to organise their notes, different strategies and when they might be useful using a variety of pedagogical practices and text types.
All Stage Three teachers are conducting a unit of learning with their class around the Murray-Darling, and as a way of connecting the concepts and skills that I want their/my students to learn with what they are learning in their own classroom, I am going to utilise the Mekong River as a vehicle for learning about, practising and using the various research skills including note-taking, referencing and synthesis and understanding the various concepts including credibility, reliability and validity, which are also important skills for digital literacy.
I am utilising the Mekong River for a few reasons. There are some striking similarities between Australia’s Murray-Darling River and South-East Asia’s Mekong River. Both play or have played a significant role in local trade and lifestyle at differing points along their lengths. Both have been seen as a resource for life, for money, for travel and both river systems are paying the price. Along with that aspect, this is an opportunity to expose my students to a range of Asian cultures and perspectives, a Cross-Curriculum priority under the current National Curriculum which they otherwise would not necessarily have an opportunity experience. As part of this I will be using a range of text-types, including documentaries about various aspects of the Mekong and the cultures along its length, showing the differences and similarities between the Murray-Darling and Mekong Rivers.
Finally, it allows me to connect the skills and concepts with what students are already learning about without subjecting students to hearing the same thing multiple times, both in their teacher’s classroom and then with me, which is not fair on the students, and would create issues for me around classroom management that can be avoided by simply not making those pedagogical choices.
One of the pedagogical choices that I have made regarding this unit of learning is to utilise Twitter as a way for my students to crystallise what they are learning and understanding, by giving them the opportunity to make a Tweet via my Teaching Twitter account @MrEmsClass, and already, some students have taken the opportunity, and have been quite excited by being able, to Tweet about what they have learned, such as Tahlia:
Thank you for reading, and as always I would appreciate hearing people’s thoughts on this topic, particularly anyone who has set out to explicitly teach research skills in the classroom to Stage Three students, or to Stage Two students, whom I hope to begin the topic with in Term Four. If you are interested in what we are learning in the class, feel free to follow my teaching Twitter account, or search the hashtags #PCPS #notetaking or#researchskills