“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”
– Attributed to Carl Jung
My previous article outlined a conversation I engaged in with Mark Johnson (@seminyaksunset) while he was the guest host for the @EduTweetOz handle regarding initial teacher education (ITE). As a result of this conversation, I felt inspired to write reflect on ITE in general and mine in particular and I identified six issues from that conversation that I wanted to address via this blog, which were as follows:
On Friday of last week (June 12), I posted the first article, addressing entry into ITE programs, and it generated some very interesting conversations and I received some very intriguing feedback, both in comments on the article itself, and via some Twitter conversations. My article today will address the issue of ITE structure and content. I will be dissecting my own ITE program and examining how the quality of teachers that it produces could be improved through modification of the structure and content. I also plan to include some ideas based on feedback I received as a result of my previous article.
I completed my Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) / Bachelor of Arts degree through the Ourimbah campus of the University of Newcastle (Australia). I also want to say up-front that on the whole, I am quite happy with the program I completed, and that for me, personally, I found it to be satisfactory and that I am well-placed to be a good teacher as a result. From conversations with classmates during and since, there are of course those unhappy with certain aspects, and as I mentioned briefly in my previous article, there are entire expectations of being a teacher that weren’t discussed at all, but that, I suspect, is to be expected and would be consistent with the majority of universities. What I plan to do, is to outline the program that I completed before examining how I believe it could have been improved.
My degree was a four-year (full-time) program consisting of two semesters per year and four courses per semester for a total of three hundred and twenty units of study. We were required to complete forty units of a discipline depth study (DDS), a Sustainable Community elective and in our third and fourth year or study we had the choice between undertaking the Special Education specialisation stream, the Honours (Graded) program, or an elective course.
I moved a few things around and actually ended up completing three hundred and thirty units of study. I completed my DDS requirements under the mathematics and science umbrella and elected to undertake the Honours program. I also completed eighteen weeks of professional experience placements (two x four-week blocks and a ten week internship) as well as ten sessions of once a week for half a semester. The overview of my degree is below:
The degree that I completed has since changed. Beginning at the start of 2015, all Bachelor of Education (Primary) degrees graduate with ungraded Honours. My understanding is that the ungraded Honours component incorporates concepts introduced in graded Honours, such as research methodologies, ethical considerations, epistemology, ontology etc. but that a research project is not undertaken nor a thesis written. If you are curious, click here to read more.
How would I modify the program?
I want to again state that overall I was satisfied with the ITE that I received. As with any situation, however, there are ways in which it could be improved, and below are the ways in which I would change my degree to make it more rigorous, and provide a greater level of preparation for teachers entering the profession.
Year One Semester One
There were some interesting conversations, as I mentioned previously, as a result of my previous post. I was contacted on Twitter by Amanda Corrigan (@ajcorrigan) who is the Director of Student Experience, School of Education and Associate Dean (Student Experience) Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Strathclyde (Scotland). Amanda advised that Strathclyde University conduct interviews for entry to the second year of their ITE program, with questions based on the student-teacher's learning from the first year program. Students, both those who do and do not receive approval to continue, are provided with advice about next steps. All students undergo a first year placement which may be in any institution with children such as traditional educational institutions, but also prisons, asylum seekers, sports clubs etc. Amanda also advised that Scotland’s newest teachers also receive a guaranteed year in school, a mentor and reduced reduced class contact. This has the potential to allow graduate teachers to focus on improving their pedagogy and classroom management with advice and guidance from experienced teachers. I also received insight from Corrine Campbell (@corisel) and Sally-Anne Robertson (@eduemum) regarding their ITE, which you can read in the previous article of this series.
The content and structure of ITE programs, whether it be undergraduate or post-graduate, needs to be more rigorous, with a greater focus on an understanding of how to read and use the curriculum document as a tool for programming, how to apply TPCK and SAMR models to technology considerations, and more rigorous and explicit teaching around how to teach the KLAs; in addition to teaching how to write programs so that the KLA’s are, where possible, integrated in authentic ways that allow content to be covered across broad swathes of the curriculum. These integrated units should be used where suitable to allow time for our students to go about the business of learning how to think. As I said in my final article from the Teaching for Thinking Forum review series:
“…learning is the product of thinking…” (Dominic Hearne), that “…good thinking is a disposition as well as a skill set…” (Simon Brooks), that “…we need to explicitly teach and embed thinking skills, including the metalanguage of thinking and metacognition…” (Dr. Jensen) and finally, that “…our job is done only when we see evidence of students’ understanding and reasoning…” (Constantin Lomaca).
Thank you for reading this long article. I would very much like to hear peoples thoughts and feedback on what I have written today, whether it be in the comments here, or over on Twitter. This series will continue with a new article tomorrow, which I will endeavour to keep a shorter length.
See here for the list of articles in this series.
“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”
– Attributed to Bruce Lee
Today’s article is the final in the review series from the Teaching for Thinking Forum held last week at St Leo’s Catholic College, and focuses on Constantin Lomaca’s concluding presentation titled Towards a Thinking Curriculum. If you have not read the articles covering the previous three speakers, I would recommend you do so, by clicking here for the first presentation. Constantin is the head of Teaching and Learning at St. Leo’s, and opened by thanking everyone for their attendance, and promising that he would push through quickly to preserve the question time that was planned for the end of the evening.
Constantin entry point into the discussion on thinking and philosophy in education was reminiscent of components of the previous speakers’ messages; the current curriculum is crowded, the pressure on teachers stress to “…get through all the content…” and the ensuing stress as we seek to achieve this leads to our students having little time to think and to process the discussions and learning in which they engage; and this on the back of us, as teachers, having only a small amount of time to plan and prepare inside school hours, being forced to take work home far too often.
“By the ‘time our students reach senior school, they have not acquired the tools or dispositions for “thinking through” problems, concepts and ideas independently, which impacts their HSC performance, particularly at the higher bands.”
As a primary teacher, I do not necessarily see the end results that Constantin is referring to. What I do see, however, is the effects he is implying when it comes to NAPLAN. Students that do not ‘get’ the answer, or think of the answer within the allotted time (often only a few seconds) and are thus used to being supplied with the answers to ‘problems’ are being asked to think for themselves and this is causing anxiety and stress.
Simon commented in his presentation that “…learning is the product of thinking…” and Constantin extended this statement. To learn something is to understand it, intrinsically; to be able to transfer the knowledge across domains, and therefore “…[u]nderstanding is NOT… a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating [or] creating, but a RESULT of them. Thus UNDERSTANDING is the outcome of Thinking” and accordingly, it is only when students have demonstrated with evidence their understanding and reasoning behind a specific concept that our job is done. Constantin’s statement regarding the lack of dispositions for thinking also hearkens back to a comment by Simon, in his presentation, that without the disposition to think, it is irrelevant how much explicit teaching of thinking [tools] we provide.
Constantin echoed Dr. Jensen’s call that thinking skills need to be explicitly taught, and time for authentic practice given, however it is not enough, I believe, to provide time for practice of thinking skills and strategies. The discussions that were engaged in during the evening indicated that there was a general awareness and understanding of this point, and the pedagogical strategies that have been put in place to support the implementation of the explicit teaching of thinking skills and strategies.
Constantin continued his presentation with a brief overview of how St Leo’s were utilising a process to program and plan called Understanding by Design, or UbD, to facilitate the inclusion of thinking skills. I had not previously heard of this programming method, but based upon Constantin’s explanation, it does sound somewhat similar to a process that was introduced to me during my undergraduate degree as backward mapping, which is also known as Backward Planning or Backward Design.
Constantin expanded upon how this process was being used to implement teaching for thinking and to make thinking visible within the context of his school, and concluded his presentation by inviting three students to make a presentation based upon their learning during the year thus far. The students demonstrated an awareness of the basic principles of critical thinking skills, and the historical providence from the Age of Enlightenment and other thinkers throughout history, which despite some obvious nervousness from the students, flowed well and was tightly structured.
The Forum at this point, after some closing remarks from Constantin, and an invitation to join himself and others for a meal at a local venue, broke up, with a number of small groups forming to digest, discuss and reflect with each other upon the evening. Given that my mode of travel is motorbike, and that at this point it was around 7.30pm, cold and a little windy, I made the decision to opt out of the dinner in order to make the approximately forty-five minute trip home.
The Forum was, in my mind, absolutely worth attending, and each of the presenters linked in with each other on various points. There was a lot to get excited about, a lot to take back into the classroom and put into action, much to ruminate upon and plans to consider for future action.
I was excited by the results of the two philosophy courses being implemented at Waverley College, and am eager to visit and see some of those classes in action, in order to extrapolate some of the pedagogical strategies backwards to put into place with my Stage Three students. I am also beginning to make explicit thinking time part of my pedagogical practice when asking students to engage with concepts. So far, in the week since the Forum, this has met with mixed responses from students, but I am confident that as it becomes more and more common and that as we continue the conversation about why thinking is critical that more students will get on board with the practice. Finally, I very much want to spend some time considering how, when I do have a full-time class, I can embed the teaching for thinking principles within my class, my pedagogy and my students, to achieve the goal of creating life long learners and thinkers.
I will leave you with a final comment, a reminder that “…learning is the product of thinking…” (Dominic Hearne), that “…good thinking is a disposition as well as a skill set…” (Simon Brooks), that “…we need to explicitly teach and embed thinking skills, including the metalanguage of thinking and metacognition…” (Dr. Jensen) and finally, that “…our job is done only when we see evidence of students’ understanding and reasoning…” (Constantin Lomaca).
As always, thank you for reading, and my thanks go to St. Leo’s Catholic College for organising and hosting this event, to the speakers for their time, energy, expertise and ideas, and to my fellow teachers, who gave of their Thursday night to open themselves up to concepts and ideas that can be challenging in the face of needing to “…get through the content…”
See here for the list of articles in this series.
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
– Attributed to Henry Ford
My previous two articles in this review series from the Teaching for Thinking Forum have examined the presentations by Dominic Hearne and Simon Brooks. This article follows on with a review of the first presentation after the networking and reflection break, which was delivered by Dr Britta Jensen of Marist College presenting under the title Community of Inquiry – teaching methodology for the thinking classroom.
Dr Jensen opened her presentation by making a statement that I agree with wholeheartedly; “[t]hinking skills should be explicitly taught and practiced,” a statement which harks back to Simon Brooks’ comment that “learning is the product of thinking.” Dr Jensen produced a non-exhaustive list of thinking skills and some of their applications, which I have included here.
You can see how many of these relate to the Four C’s as previously introduced by Simon and also back to the examination of generalisations and of underlying assumptions that Dominic Hearne spoke about in his presentation. The introduction of thinking skills, particularly the explicit engagement with the meta-language of thought, may increase the quality of class discussions (and as an aside, when combined with other strategies, may reduce the incidence of the Hermione effect) and increase the awareness of the thinking strategies which students are engaging with in a variety of contexts, that is, of meta-cognition around thinking skills and strategies which they are employing.
Dr Jensen then produced the brief version of five steps for a community of inquiry:
Dr Jensen played for the audience the trailer for Sur le chemin de l’école and then we, as an audience, generated questions that arose from the brief clip (included below).
The underlying aim of the exercise was to demonstrate the ease with which a questioning and thinking exercise can be initiated in a classroom. Dr Jensen followed this up by showing us a stimulus that had been used with a Stage One class:
This stimulus generated a significant level of conversation with Stage One students, and the responses were quite articulate and demonstrate a high level of awareness when it comes to questioning and thinking.
There are a range of potential benefits to explicitly teaching and practicing thinking skills, some of which Dr Jensen elucidated on, including the ability to contribute, constructively, to discussions, the ability to refine ideas and arguments upon the reception of new information (a skill which will carry across to the scientific domain), and very importantly, it teaches students to respectfully disagree. This last skills in particular is a critical skill for all students, indeed, all adults, to possess as it will be required, essentially, throughout their lives as a skill to avoid creating arguments and disharmony in various contexts.
Dr Jensen closed with discussion of two schools in Australia, Buranda State School in Queensland and Bondi Public School in NSW, both of whom have introduced explicit teaching of philosophy and thinking, which has had a flow-on effect on NAPLAN results. Dr Jensen was quick acknowledge that NAPLAN is merely one way to measure, and that there is knowledge of any other programs that may have been put in place by those schools that may have assisted with the results.
Dr Jensen provided some links to other resources for anyone interested in further development and using philosophy and thinking their teaching, as well as some links to academic resources:
I would like to hear from anyone who has implemented explicit teaching and practice of thinking skills in their classroom, and the problems that were encountered and strategies for solving them, as well as the success stories with using explicit teaching and practice of thinking skills.
As always, thank you for reading, and tomorrow will see the last article in this series on the Teaching for Thinking Forum, a review of Dean Lomaca’s presentation under the title Towards a Thinking Curriculum.
See here for the list of articles in this series.