“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.
“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.”
– Attributed to George Whitman
Many of us, I hesitate to say all, would be familiar with the slogan learning; any time, anywhere and how it is often applied to contemporary pedagogical* movements as a type of panacea for education and improved learning outcomes. I write that as someone who has said and written it, acknowledging that that particular outcome of contemporary pedagogy is valid in its own right. At the same time, I acknowledge that it has always been the case (as evidenced by the saying every day is s school day but that our idea of what learning is and how it occurs has changed over the last twenty years or so.
I made the choice over the break, upon reflecting upon the skills and concepts that I had yet to cover with my students, to focus on learning one skill or concept very well for this term, rather than attempting to get through everything for the sake of covering all of my program. It seems to make sense to myself, and the students, on the whole, agreed with me when I have explained the situation to them over the course of yesterday and today. For Stage Three, we are looking at research skills, specifically, the ability to take good quality notes, a skill which I do not recall ever being explicitly taught, yet which is an assumed skill in both secondary school and definitely in tertiary education.
This term I am attempting to provide my Stage Three students with skills that will help them avoid the mistakes I and many of my classmates in both high school and university made, in frantically trying to copy down every single word, in not having any sort of structure to the notes, other than, perhaps, indented dot-points. I went so far as to bring in and show my students a copy of my Honours Thesis, explaining how long it was required to be, and then showing them the notes that I had made in doing my research of the literature. We talked about the benefits of good note-taking skills, not just in academic terms, but in the way that it helps to organise your thoughts and ideas.
This week was an introduction to the layout of the Cornell Note-Taking Strategy, how you set out a page, what each section is used for and a discussion of the various ways that we become more efficient note-takers through the use of abbreviations and acronyms that are contextually appropriate. I found that some of my students were struggling to understand the purpose of the left hand column, the cue word column and I was working to formulate a different explanation of the use when one of the students put it to me like this:
"Is it like how when I read something for a project, I just write down the main idea of each paragraph?"
Such a simple explanation, and when I used that explanation with the next class, a large number of light bulbs flicked on. It reinforced to me that even though I am the teacher, I am still a learner. This Year Six student handed me another way of explaining a skill that I had not thought of, that enabled a number of other students to engage and understand the concept that I was teaching.
*I refuse to call it twenty-first century learning anymore. That particular phrase, to my mind, was something that implied forward thinking and being ahead of the curve. We are now fifteen years, coming up to sixteen years into the twenty-first century. If you are not doing twenty-first century teaching and learning, you are likely behind the curve. I also acknowledge that some of what is considered twenty-first century learning is actually what was old, is once again new. The skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, listed as being twenty-first century skills are not, in fact, modern at all. They are skills that have been taught in a variety of formats, often implicitly for many years, but have been done without being explicitly taught as critical thinking, or explicitly taught as problem solving.
I do realise the apparent juxtaposition of that statement given my Twitter handle and the name of this blog, however I view those more as a statement of when rather than what I am teaching.
“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