"…if people had maybe a little bit more training in the creative arts, you’d probably see it a bit more."
- Research participant during our interview
When I look at this final chapter now, I am stunned at how short it is and how under developed it is. I can only presume that when I began the proof-reading and editing process that I was unable to find sufficient sections of text to remove in the previous chapters that would allow me to add significantly to the Conclusion to make it worthwhile losing that prior text. I was, quite fairly , given constructive feedback around that specific point. This is clearly the weakest chapter in my mind because I touch on a few areas but do not sufficiently unpack and discuss them and their ramifications within the context of a conclusion chapter.
If you have managed to read through the three preceding chapters in full, you will find this one, comparatively, over in the blink of an eye.
"I wanted to stay away from body-image, I hated body-image, it was so cliché, it was overkill and I wanted to do something completely different and the idea that I came up with, they said it was too shallow, like it wasn’t in depth enough and they made me do body-image, and it really made me unhappy."
- Research Participant during our interview.
On reflection, I feel like this chapter is the second weakest. There were some avenues that I did not fully explore (largely due to word limit), but largely, I was frustrated as in working through this chapter, I found myself wishing that I had asked a particular follow up question to draw further insight from my research participants, to get to the heart of what they were saying. Both of these issues were noted within the examiners feedback, as was the fact that I missed, apparently, some significant articles in my research which would have made for strong additions to my writing. I found this a frustrating piece of feedback, not because I disagreed with it but because the articles and researchers that had been suggested had not come up at all in my literature review.
This means that either their importance is over-stated (unlikely) or that I did not hit on the right combination of keywords to find those particular researchers. As well, it was noted that I did not address some issues at all, such as the impact of perceptions within schools observed during practicum and the impact that had on relationships with the arts. In some instances, I had not the clarity of mind at the time, nor the experience to follow up responses with exploratory questions. In others, it simply did not seem like something that I needed to follow up until I started to write this chapter.
If you missed either of the previous chapters, you can find them here.
As always, thank you for reading, and I welcome any constructive feedback you care to offer.
"To me the arts, was just like a, a filler. Something just for the kids to do that is fun for them, that wouldn’t really tie into anything else cause [pause] my experience with the arts never tied into anything else."
-Research participant during our interview
The examiners found some problems within this chapter and when I read back through this chapter after reading their feedback, they were rather obvious problems as well. There were also a few rather silly typographical errors which somehow neither I nor Mrs C21 managed to pickup in our proof-reading.
If you missed Chapter One, you can find it here.
Chapter II – Methodology
The underlying purpose of this research project is to examine and understand the discourses that constitute the taken-up positions of pre-service teachers at the end of their ITE programs in relation to art education, and to then identify and understand the perceived barriers limiting the implementation of the arts in pedagogical practice. Focusing on the subject positions of three final (fourth) year pre-service teachers who had all completed their ITE program coursework, and had only to undertake their final ten-week long practicum prior to completing their ITE program, this research was conducted utilising a post-structuralist lens to deconstruct and understand the discourses underlying the positions taken-up by the participants in relation to art education, and the resulting barriers as perceived by the participants, impacting on their implementation of the arts in their pedagogical practice.
The use of qualitative research techniques allows for engagement with the multi-layered lived experiences of the pre-service teachers’ ITE in order to clarify the experiences and the participant’s understandings (Polkinghorne, 2005). A post-structuralist perspective assisted in ascertaining the underlying discourses of the participants subject positioning about art education and deconstructing the barriers limiting the implementation of art education.
The use of qualitative research techniques allows for fluidity of direction in the data collection process, as participants’ responses may yield unexpected data that can drive new or different research directions, whilst also providing the opportunity to scrutinise the subject understandings of those discourses experienced by participants throughout the ITE program, and the specific contexts involved (Miles & Huberman 1984 as cited in Ramey-Gassert, Shroyer, & Staver, 1996). Participants were sourced through purposive sampling and engaged in semi-structured interviews, with the resulting data analysed through discourse analysis, assisted by positioning theory.
The research focus was on a particular set of relationships; the relationship between ITE programs and pre-service teachers’ subjectivities relating to art education, and the pre-service teachers’ subjectivities relating to art education and the implementation of the arts in their pedagogical practice. For this reason, research participants were recruited through purposive sampling of the 2014 fourth year Bachelor of Education (Primary) / Bachelor of Arts cohort form the University of Newcastle’s Central Coast campus. This cohort was selected due to ease of access by the student researcher.
Purposive sampling allowed for the selection of information rich cases on the basis of their possessing a particular characteristic typical of the population being studied (Punch, 2009), namely those pre-service teachers who have completed their coursework but have not joined the ranks of graduate teachers. The purpose of this study is not, however, to generalise the findings across the current cohort of final year pre-service teachers, but to ascertain and understand the subject positions of the participants and the barriers they perceive around implementing art education in order to gain a clearer understanding for the potential reasons for the divergence between understanding of the benefits of art education and the implementation of the arts in pedagogical practice.
The utilisation of in-depth semi-structured interviews allowed the participants to express their narratives about their subject positions (Punch, 2009; Tanggaard, 2009). The interviews were constructed through a pre-determined open-ended interview schedule to allow for a basic framework of the understanding of the experiences which shape the positions held by the participant to emerge. Those experiences were reinforced and the understandings deepened through the use of follow-up questions, which allowed for the pursuit of those experiences and narrative truths and understandings which appeared outside the scope of the original pre-devised schedule, or prompt questions (Punch, 2009). The use of open-ended questions is preferable to closed questions as it affords the participants the choice of how they answer (Marton, 1986 as cited in Huntly, 2008). The use of ‘’what’ as a question opener was utilised as this has been cited as facilitating a rich description by the participant of the core subject being studied Marton (1986 as cited by Huntly, 2008). The recorded interviews were transcribed solely by the student researcher, and transcriptions were sent to the participants, to provide an opportunity to conduct a member check.
This research examines the positions taken-up by the pre-service teacher participants about the arts in education. Through discourse analysis of the interview transcripts, I attempt to identify discourses which construct the subjectivities of pre-service teachers’ vis-à-vis art education and future use of the arts in their pedagogical practice. The reasons behind the participants’ subjectivities are examined through a post-structuralist lens.
Discourse analysis has been used within this research study as it is a research method understood to be multimodal, combining an array of analysis techniques including, in this context, theoretical, interpretive and critical (Krug & Cohen-Evron, 2000). I take the view that discourses are a productive force created through the amalgamation of ideology, linguistic practices and social relationships which constitute the taken-up position, and the means by which we make sense of the world around us (Davies, 2004; Ma, 2013). There are a multitude of discourses encountered daily, and it is not possible to take up all available discourses (Davies, 1990). Understanding that there are multiple discourses which are not all able to be taken-up allows for an understanding of our existence at the nexus of multiple discursive practices, which can be conceptualised as subject positioning (Davies, 2004). Our subject positioning is constituted through internally owned, or taken-up, discourses (Atkinson, 2004), which are, and do, change over time (Atkinson, 2004; Davies, 2004). This post-structuralist conceptualisation of subject positioning then allows for an ongoing cycle of making sense of, and continually updating, the competing and often contradictory discourses to which we are exposed (Atkinson, 2004; Beijaard et al., 2004; Davies, 1990, 1997).
My understanding of a post-structuralist lens is that it will facilitate and encourage the questioning of those understandings and beliefs which are treated as ‘taken-for-granted’ as it is understood that knowledge is understood subjectively, produced culturally and constructed contextually (Woolfolk & Margetts, 2010). A post-structuralist framework posits that there is no single truth or meaning, and thus will allow me to examine the different narratives (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Posner, 2011), about how positions held, about the arts in education came to be taken-up, as expressed subjectively by the research participants.
Validity, in the context of a qualitative research project such as this one, is as has been broadly stated as being “…the isomorphism of findings with reality” (Denzin and Lincoln (Eds), 1994, p. 114 as cited in Punch, 2009, p. 315). In essence, qualitative validity is looking to ensure that the findings are commensurate with the data from which they were derived. To this end, a feature of qualitative research is the use of a technique known as ‘member checking’, which refers to the practice of checking with the subjects from whence the data came that they are in agreeance that; the initial data (in this research study the interview transcripts) are an accurate representation of the reality (in this research study, the interview), and that the final representation of themselves within the analysis and findings is consistent in relation to their subjective understanding of themselves (Punch, 2009).
Due to the qualitative, and human-based nature of this research project, that is the nature of the participants’ personal beliefs and experiences being examined, due consideration was given to the ethical factors that arose, including consent and confidentiality. Participants were informed in writing about the nature of the study, and participation was on a voluntary basis, with written, informed consent being sought prior to inclusion. Participants were advised, in writing on the consent form, and verbally prior to the commencement of their interview, that they were free to refuse to answer any question, or to terminate the interview at any time, without any reason and without fear of repercussion. To protect their privacy, research participants were asked to select pseudonyms for use during the interviews, with any identifying data being either omitted or altered. Audio recorded interviews and the transcripts thereof have, and will continue to be, held securely in accordance with the University of Newcastle’s Research Data and Materials Management Policy (University of Newcastle, 2008).
Participants were provided with an opportunity to conduct a member check, and accordingly were provided with a copy of the transcription of their interview for this purpose. This was done to afford participants an initial opportunity to review the interview and ensure that they are satisfied with how they and their views have been represented through the interview process (Punch, 2009). This process also provides an initial opportunity for participants to indicate that they wish for data from their interview, either in part or in whole, not to be used for the research project. Participants were also afforded an opportunity to conduct a final member check prior to the submission of this thesis, and were provided with a copy of the final dissertation for this purpose. This was done in order to provide a final chance for participants to ensure they were satisfied with how they have been represented and interpreted as part of the analysis process, and that they have been represented authentically.
It was not expected that research participants would experience stress, mental or emotional discomfort during the interview. Participants were be reminded at the commencement of the interview that they had the right to refuse to answer any question, or terminate the interview, at any time, without reason or negative consequences for their relationship with the researchers or the University of Newcastle.
Chapter Two outlined the methodology used within this research project, and the literature that supports the methodology’s use in relation to the research question. Chapter Three will communicate the subjectively understood answers to the research questions described within Chapters One and Two.
“I’m not going to be an art teacher that teaches art”
- Research Participant, during our interview for my Dissertation
When I was in the process of completing my initial teacher education (ITE), I considered whether or not it would be worth undertaking the Honours process as part of that. There were a lot of factors that fed into the eventual decision to apply for a place, and ultimately, though it helped not one whit with acquiring a full-time position as a teacher, I am glad that I went through the process. It was long, mentally and intellectually challenging, and it pushed me to think more critically, to be more aware of research processes and biases as well of various research methodologies. I actually enjoyed the process of researching, and writing and it has had a significant influence on my writing style.
I had considered working towards having it published, however, have neither the time nor the mindset at this point to sit down and re-edit it sufficiently so that it fits within the word limits of a journal article. More importantly, I have no disconnected with the data and with that piece of research and would need to invest significant time and effort into reconnecting. I do wish to pursue a Research Higher Degree at some point (after Youngling has started school at the earliest is what I have been told) and so offer up over the next few articles, my Honours dissertation for feedback.
I have not made any edits whatsoever to this version. It is a straight copy and paste from my original 2014 file. I am rather proud of it, despite its now (to me) glaring flaws. If you wish to dive straight into the whole dissertation, you can find it here as a PDF. I have also made available the examiners reports and rubrics (after redacting their identifiable information). I found it interesting that one examiner marked it as an eighty-eight whilst the other marked it as an eighty-two. A fairly significant variation in marks, however, the average of eighty-five was sufficient to earn a High Distinction and thus, with the other requirements met regarding my Grade Point Average etc., the award of Honours Class I.
I welcome any constructive feedback you care to offer.
“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.
“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
– Attributed to Peter Drucker
Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in a Ph.D. research project being led by Penny Bentley (@penpln). Penny is researching (paraphrasing here) the role that social media plays as a tool for professional development, particularly in STEM contexts. My initial engagement was via an expression of interest survey which was linked to on Twitter which Penny was using to recruit participants.
One of the questions on the subsequent survey, which took about twenty minutes to complete, was if you would be interested in completing an interview with Penny to go deeper into the thinking behind your responses in the survey. Having utilised interviews as a method of data collection for my Honours thesis, I can recall how difficult it can be to obtain enough interview participants for your data to have real credibility, so I volunteered to take part in an interview.
The interview process, conducted using a Skype video call, was a largely reflective one and, for me, an eye-opening experience. I believe there is something different about verbalising your thoughts and reflections to another person as opposed to simply writing them down. The questions were focused on how my practice has changed as a result of the professional learning gained from social media, which for me, is predominantly Twitter.
It was not until engaging in this process with Penny that I realised how significant Twitter has been for my growth and learning as an educator. Without it, I would not have found out about a number of events that I have attended over the last few years, including FutureSchools, FlipConAus, and various TeachMeet events (review articles for all three here), I would not have made connections with and learned from a large number of diverse and experienced educators in a variety of contexts, now would I have sustained my blog writing, which I feel provides a useful outlet to verbalise, in a manner of speaking, my reflections vis-a-vis my professional practice. If you are not using Twitter in a professional capacity and you are an educator, please watch the five-minute video in yesterday’s article to find out why you should be using Twitter as an educator.
I also found the process of contributing to a research project rewarding in its own right. Having conducted interviews as part of my Honours research, I recall how difficult it can be to find a sufficient number of participants to ensure credibility in your data and conclusions.
I do not feel like the process of reflecting, either with Penny during our discussion, or in general through this blog, has generated any Eureka! moments, however looking back at older blogs, I can see how my beliefs and practices have changed, and I believe that engaging in reflecting upon my practice through this blog, as well as engaging with other educators via Twitter, has allowed me to grow as an educator and improved my practice.
As always, thank you for reading, and please leave any comments or feedback below or connect with me via Twitter.
Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
– Attributed to John Dewey
I have sat down to write this particular article on a number of occasions and for various reasons, have ended up not doing so, however, I am determined to write it today and thus am staying back at school, with no, or rather no domestic, distractions. Whilst I checked out of social media, from an educating point of view, for the duration of the Christmas holidays, I was still perusing the various tweets and reading linked articles when they struck my fancy, e-mailing many of them to myself for later use.
I have written previously about Initial Teacher Education (my Musings on Initial Teacher Education series can be found here) and there have been some articles that have made for interesting reading around the topic of initial teacher education, as well as teaching in general, that I believe are worth discussing.
Greg Ashman (@greg_ashman) is someone whose style of writing I tend to enjoy reading, and his article The bad ideas that hold teachers back was no different. This particular article discussed, very briefly, the pedagogical practice of differentiation, citing it as seeming “…truthy enough…” but that ultimately, it does not have a solid bank of evidence supporting it. To demonstrate this, Greg included the below graphic:
It is an impressive looking graph, however, I am not conversant enough in statistical analysis to understand whether what is being represented is actually statistically significant. I understand enough to understand that I am looking at a graph that would appear to demonstrate that the greater the percentage of lower secondary (which I take to mean Years Seven to Nine) teachers who profess to differentiate by providing alternate work either frequently or in almost all lessons correlated to a lower PISA mathematics mean score in the 2012 iteration. Greg provided a link to a pdf file from the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented which he summed up as finding that:
“…the teachers weren’t doing it right. So it is either something that works if you have particularly talented teachers who can implement it – although this has not been demonstrated – or it is an idea that doesn’t work at all…”
I have mixed feelings regarding the concept of differentiation. I agree that in theory it does sound “…truthy enough…” but that in practice it often seems to result in learning opportunities of a far lower standard than the student needs (or, perhaps, is entitled to) or at the other end of the scale, fails to provide a sufficiently high challenge. I must note that at this point in my career, that I have not had a great range of exposure to how specific teachers differentiate specific skills, concepts or pieces of knowledge, and so I am drawing from a limited well, that being my own experience, which in this area feels like wandering in the dark, to a degree.
The next article I noted was also by Greg, and was titled A guide for new teachers. It contained a number of ideas and thoughts that I feel would be beneficial for new teachers to be aware of, and I think which the pre-service teacher I wrote about last year would have appreciated reading had I come across the article then.
The final article was regarding teacher qualifications, job shortages, and accreditation issues, which I believe I will leave for another time, as those issues are complex enough, and have the potential for a lengthy article in their own right. I am also conscious of the fact that it is now just after five pm and that I still have a number of other things I need to do before I go home.
“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
“There’s nothing better when something comes and hits you and you think ‘YES’!”
– Attributed to J.K. Rowling
From time to time in life, you experience an epiphany, that moment where the light bulb suddenly turns on and you get it, whatever ‘it’ is. I had this earlier in the week midway through a lesson with around note-taking with some Stage Three students, when I noticed they were struggling with the task that I had asked them to complete. I was attempting to discern where I had let the students down; was the task too difficult, had I not explained things clearly, and I suddenly realised that I had completely failed to model the task for them.
I am not sure how it happened, but upon reflecting back over the last few days of lessons I realised that I had done this a few times and that it was becoming something of a habit. I am working on breaking that habit, and have redone that session with the classes affected, and it has gone much smoother. I am still working on getting the flow smoothed out, as I am not particularly happy with that aspect of the session, but it is a work in progress. I went through the session in question with a Stage Three class this afternoon, and I am reasonably happy with how that went. I think that I have found a balance between talking and doing, and the engagement reflected that, as did their responses at the end of the session as we reflected on the learning.
On that note, I found it interesting how excited they got when I explained that they were going to decide on the top three ideas they had learned that session and post them on my classroom Twitter account. Students discussed what they thought were the three important ideas from the session, and then I asked a student to Tweet that idea out. When the first student hit the Tweet button for the first one, the room erupted into cheers and applause. Will they remember that session? Will they remember the ideas? I hope yes to both, and I will check with them next week when I see them if they remember what we talked about.
Thank you for reading, and if you are using Twitter in the classroom, please follow me using your classroom account, and I will follow back. I would love to make some connections nationally and internationally with other classes as a vehicle for talking about global issues, digital citizenship and other topics.
I feel like I have not achieved much today, in some ways, and I do not feel like I will get much done this afternoon between a staff meeting, chiropractic appointment and a meeting that I have to go to at Warners Bay this evening. I am currently typing this on my iPad as I wait for the weekly staff meeting to begin.
I have not had time today, for reasons, to type out my next article in the series on the Staff Development a day that I attended last Monday, nor will I have time tomorrow, as it is the school athletics carnival.
The small thing to celebrate is that I received an email today advising me that I had been nominated by my Honours supervisor to submit my dissertation for consideration to be presented at the Australasian Conference of Undergraduate Researchers (ACUR), which takes place at the end of September, in Perth, Western Australia.
It involves a four thousand word submission which is then considered, and though I intend to submit, I will be hard pushed to get it done as quickly as I would like.
Thank you for reading, as always, and I will try to get an article done for tomorrow, but given my time pressures, I do not think I will be successful.
“The smart phones and tablets that our students have now are the most primitive technology they will ever use.”
– Ian Jukes
The fourth and final session of the day began after the mid-afternoon break and saw Ian Jukes speaking under the title Strategies for teaching digital learners in today’s classrooms. I was looking forward to this, as based on the title, I was expecting strategies for engaging students who were otherwise disengaged. I found Ian’s talk to be like a whirlwind; fast and furious with lots to be aware of and take in.
Ian started off by commenting that student expectations about learning are fundamentally changing the way in which we teach. There was little elucidation as to what, exactly, he meant by this, but it seems, intuitively, to be reasonably accurate when you take a cursory look at the way in which teachers are adopting, piecemeal, various technologies and new pedagogical techniques. Ian went on to comment that children are currently maturing, physically, at an earlier age, but that neurologically, they are maturing differently to how we, or any previous generation matured due to the constant digital bombardment to which children are now subjected, and that occurs mainly outside the school context.
My generation (according to the image above which is from this article, as a 1983 baby, I’m the tail end of Generation X, or The Baby Bust generation) and those that came before me, were textual learners, wherein we learnt from the text,whether it be on the blackboard, the textbook or our own writing. Any images used in the text, were used to compliment and provide some additional information or context to the information in the text.
Those born since 2000 have grown up in an age where they are constantly bombarded by digital and visual stimuli, whether it be advertisements on TV, the internet, electronic signboards at sporting events or in the cities. These advertisements, being designed by marketers to capture attention and deliver a short and sharp message, are highly visual, with limited text. Ian posits, and I’ve read articles elsewhere to support the claim, that this has resulted in the brains of today’s students being wired differently; where they seek the bulk of the information or learning from the visual communication, and only then look to the text to get some complementary information.
This has an impact on teaching practices, wherein teachers now need to ‘rewire’ their pedagogical techniques to account for this. A Google search using the terms Literacy crisis yields over sixty-nine million hits, with some of the excerpts seeming to echo the shift from textual to visual, but without the realisation of what has occurred. Some of these excerpts include:
What the search results tell us is that as a society, we are yet to recognise the shift in our children’s communication preference, or understand why it has occurred. Ian talked about how the digital generation find it natural to communicate visually through images, as seen with the explosion of image-driven social media such as Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, and Snapchat, amongst others, and that this change is what is driving the shift to visual expression, away from textual expression. From this, and I must point out that this is my inference, not what Ian said, the shift to preferencing visual communication over textual may be a partial explanation for the apparent ‘literacy crisis.’
This shift is also seen in the way in which the generations read. Mine, and those before me, traditionally read, and learned to read, in what is termed a z-pattern whilst the digital generation it seems are reading in what is termed an f-pattern. This has significant connotations for teachers when they are creating lesson plans and setting texts for reading etc, as the f-pattern appears to be more conducive to skimming, which Ian commented is fast “…becoming the new normal.”
Ian provided us with some strategies for leveraging this knowledge. To get students to read the full text, he said, get a real image (a real photo, not a clip art or a stock photo) and put it in the bottom right-hand corner, and rotate it so that it ‘slingshots’ the reader back to the top of the information. This is a strategy commonly utilised in advertisements, particularly for tobacco or alcohol, where they are required to put disclaimers in the advertising. These disclaimers often appear in the bottom left or right-hand corner, above or next to which is an image that ‘slingshots’ you back to the top of the ad, wherein you’ll again be exposed to the brand name, brand logo, or brand slogan.
This can be seen in the advertisement below, where the brand name is in the middle of the image with the disclaimer, consisting of two words (live responsibly) is in small font in the bottom left-hand corner. A much larger block of text, in a large-size font sits in the right hand corner, to which the western-eye, (being that we read left to right) eye is naturally drawn, above which the rippling water catches and draws the eye in, taking you back to the image in the centre. I suspect that in those countries where reading is done right to left, that the contents of the bottom corners would be switched.
was a bit surprised by his casual dismissal of this, however, when he explained what he meant, it made perfect sense, as I have felt the same way when playing computer games.
Ian stated that gamers’ are required to make a decision every half to one second and are punished or rewarded for those choices every seven to ten seconds. Anecdotally, as a gamer on various platforms and of a range of different genres, this sounds about right. This is the immediacy of reward and punishment – the instant gratification/punishment system. But note that there is also a significant amount of choice involved.The drop in gaming platform prices has resulted in many children owning their own gaming platform, whether it be console, PC, or mobile device. Many of these games offer instant gratification or rewards for doing certain things, and you gain trophies/points/upgrades and feedback about the achievement along the way. Gaming is certainly a vehicle for instant gratification. I currently own an Xbox 360 and love seeing the little icon pop up when I hit an ‘achievement’ in a game. Additionally, as someone who plays Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, I love the instant nature of, again, seeing the icon pop up that I’ve hit an achievement, or leveled up – instant gratification.
Gaming also encourages delayed gratification and effort. One of the games I engage with is EA Sports' FIFA, a football/soccer game. To win the various trophies and competitions within a football/soccer season takes a significant investment of time and effort, to not only play the individual matches, but to make choices about manage the team. It also requires constant decisions-making, for which I am instantly punished or rewarded (do I pass the ball this way or that, shoot or not shoot at goal, passes intercepted, or completed, shots made or saved etc). Playing Star Wars: The Old Republic also requires a massive investment in time and effort to work my way around the various worlds, complete individual missions, solve puzzles, find objects, and collaborate with other players to take on large-scale missions and high-level enemies.
All of this results in, over time, me gaining access to the highest level abilities, armour, weapons and missions. It provides delayed gratification, and finally getting to the highest level, or defeating a certain enemy that you’ve been struggling against over a period of time, and have attempted to defeat multiple times as you increase your abilities provides a huge sense of satisfaction, at finally after all this time and the choices made around tactics/weapons/abilities etc finally pay off.
So whilst yes, gaming does provide instant gratification, it also encourages effort and delayed gratification (amongst a range of other benefits, a topic which itself has been the source of much discussion. You can read one paper for gaming here) and as such digital learners are capable of, and display, delayed reward acceptance. The other aspect of gaming that is vastly different to current education systems is the feedback. Feedback in gaming is an ongoing affair, with continual feedback coming from the game as a result of choices that you make as a player. Currently, in education systems, feedback might consist of a tick, a stamp and/or a sticker in the student’s workbook, maybe a comment, maybe even a few sentences, and then the half-yearly and end of year school reports. It has been my experience, both as a student, and yes, I’ll own up to being guilty of this, as a teacher, that feedback is not often ongoing in a genuine and constructive manner, unless it is negative. A two-way dialogue is rarely engaged in, it seems.
Ian closed his presentation with a few final thoughts that tied everything together. He pointed out that students, outside of the school environment, are largely engaged and in charge of their own learning. Students then have to come to school where they have no control of influence over their learning, and that often when they ask, quite genuinely, “why do I need to know this?” and when the answer is “because it’s on the test” it only serves to further disengage them. Ian pointed out that “…digital learners are highly developed critical thinking, social people and are driven learners, it is just that they are these things in ways different to that which is currently recognised and accepted,” which alludes back to his point about the need to ‘rewire’ our pedagogical techniques and teaching practices..
Ian’s final thought was a question, which struck me as being quite a meaningful, insightful challenge to the conference delegates: “If we keep trying to force students to do what we want them to do do, when it does not work, who has the learning problem?”
I’ll stop here, as this has been a much longer article than I anticipated. My next article will be around the first session of Day Two of the FutureSchools ClassTech conference.
As always, thank you for reading, and please, leave a comment with your thoughts on the article.
See here for the list of articles in this series.
“To infinity…and beyond!”
-Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story.
As I mentioned in my previous entry, I am undertaking the Honours stream as part of my degree. My research, after funnelling it down from is the degree worth doing? has become an investigation into the beliefs of pre-service teachers about the Arts in education and how those beliefs have been shaped by discourse and experiences, both personally and through the initial teacher education program, and the positions taken-up by pre-service teachers as a result. The literature that I’ve read thus far indicates that the benefits of the Arts in education are well-known and acknowledged, however there is a gap in what is understood about the beneficence of the Arts in education, and the take up of the Arts in pedagogical practice.
The broader area of is the degree worth doing is something that I plan to return to/continue examining in the future, though I suspect that the focus area will change, and it seems prudent to stay in touch with what is happening in education research through an online professional learning network combining social media and the longer form of blog articles. I also intend to use the blog as a platform for professional reflection as my practice evolves through the combination of continued pedagogical practice, professional development, educational research – both my own and others - and hopefully I will receive critical feedback from other educators through this medium.
I will be considered a new scheme teacher here in Australia, and accordingly will be required to conform to the AITSL accreditation process, part of which will inherently involve, I believe, remaining up to date with twenty-first century teaching practices, including challenge/problem based learning, ICT integration, KLA curriculum integration, flipped classrooms, self-directed learning and the like.
The school at which I am undertaking my final practicum has a class trialling 1:1 iPads, and the Executive have advised other teachers in the school that they can take part in the trial if they present an action research project that it will be trialled under, as that was one of the parameters for the trial already underway. I am incredibly excited about what I’ve seen so far, as it represents my understanding of what education should be, based on what I’ve been hearing about twenty-first century learning for the last few years over the course of my degree.
The plan is to excel during my internship (I certainly don’t plan to fail or be mediocre…no Ps get degrees for me, thank you very much. (That’s the (unjustified) snob in me coming through)) and sit down with my cooperating teacher and the principal, who I have formed a strong working relationship with, and put forward an action research project indicating how I would utilise and track usage of and the results of 1:1 iPads and the ‘anywhere, anytime learning environment that it would create, so that if there are any full time teaching positions coming up, that my name is at the very least, towards the top of the list of contenders they have in their minds. Ambitious, I realise, likely naively so, given that I will also be in the process of conducting my Honours research, but I’ve found that I do my best work under a bit of pressure. Also, if a career in educational research is part of my future, then from what I understand, it’s quite common to have multiple ‘pans on the stove’ at any one time.
So that is where my focus will be moving to next; the flipped classroom, associated pedagogical practices, and the ‘anytime, anywhere’ teaching mindset and the challenges of changing planning/programming/teaching practices accordingly, and it very much like going down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, or diving into infinity and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear likes to say, as I suspect that no matter how much reading I do, there will always be more to learn.
Some names that I’ve come across in my own readings, or had recommended to me as being highly relevant, insightful, challenging or futuristic in their thinking, include Sir Ken Robinson, Seymour Papert, Sugata Mitra and Ralph Pirozzo. There are of course many others at the forefront of education research who are helping to pull the education system kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, but those are the ones that come to mind at the moment. Feel free to recommend others.
I’ll be aiming for weekly blogs during this ‘introductory’ phase, and accordingly my next post will be next weekend, and aim is for it to be an elucidation of my teaching philosophy.
Thank you for reading.
See here for the list of articles in this series.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
– Frodo Baggins, quoting Bilbo Baggins as written by J.R.R Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, ch.3.
As this is my first blog post, it seems prudent to write about who I am, and why I have started this blog. I’m currently in my fourth and final year of a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) / Bachelor of Arts program at the University of Newcastle, and as part of that, am undertaking the Honours stream. I will be commencing my final fifty day professional experience placement (‘prac’) in during term three of the NSW school year in a stage three classroom.
Teaching for me was a career change, and at times, I have been able to relate to Bilbo when he described stepping out the door as being a dangerous business, except that for me, it was changing careers that was and is dangerous business. Like many people, I did not know what I wanted to do after I graduated from Year Twelve, and over the ensuing ten years worked in a variety of industries including different sectors of the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, and also within the electrical industry where I worked for a commercial and industrial firm. It was a good friend who was five years younger than myself graduating from university with a degree in Forensic Science, that made me realise that if I didn’t get over my fear of taking that first step into the unknown, that I would be stuck in a job and working environment that I had grown to dislike.
I had considered teaching for some time, but had been afraid to give up my reasonably-paying job for the ‘uni student lifestyle.’ I am something of a (completely unjustified) snob at heart. I took steps to change my situation, and the cards, metaphorically speaking, were exceedingly kind to me, and so began the journey of a lifetime.
In the ten years since high school, I had found myself numerous times, being responsible for either designing, teaching/training or a combination thereof, new systems, processes, skills, methods and structures for various aspects of some of the different occupations I had held and had quite enjoyed the role. I was also fortunate enough that during my own primary and secondary education I had some male teachers who were both excellent teachers and strong role models as men. As the eldest of four children, I had watched my siblings go through their own education, and realised that there was a dearth of strong male teachers in the education system. I put the two together, enjoying teaching roles I had taken on in the past, and the apparent lack of male teachers, and decided to enter the teaching profession.
Having family members and friends who are in the education system already, my eyes are wide open to the trials and tribulations that will come over the next forty-plus years of my teaching career, but it for those moments when you see a child’s eyes light up as they ‘get it’ that I have become a teacher. Out of everything that I’ve ever done, nothing comes close (so far) the feeling of satisfaction that ensues having witnessed that moment all the jigsaw pieces form a coherent picture for a child.
That’s a little bit about who I am. I daresay that more will come out over the course of my teaching journey as it is expressed through this blog, and I did say that I’d write about why I’ve started this blog. This has become somewhat wordy, so I will leave the ‘why’ for tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.
See here for the list of articles in this series.