Aussie Educator

The most effective teaching and student learning occurs where all members of a teaching team have a clear understanding of the lesson plan and the expected learning outcome from the student. Dr Rhonda Faragher

The academic year has now started for most areas of education. As with most years, it has not been without its problems, whether climate based or otherwise. We take this opportunity to wish all involved in education an enjoyable and successful year in 2017.

We have continued to update pages and ensure they are as accurate as possible. The vast majority of pages have now been completed over the last month, with the last tranche to be completed as soon as possible. Some pages have changed quite a bit, others only in minor ways and link numbers.

New links have been added where found appropriate, both from suggestions as well as our own discoveries. These have been done in addition to ensuring specific sections such as research findings, competition details, conferences, etc., are regularly updated. This process will be maintained throughout the year.

Schools are reminded that the Schools Clean Up Day is to be held on Friday 3 March 2017. As Ian Kiernan has said, ‘Taking part in Schools Clean Up Day is a lot of fun while providing valuable lessons about how rubbish impacts our favourite parks and waterways. It is the ideal way to teach young people to be the future custodians of our environment’. Don’t forget to register your school at http://www.cleanupaustraliaday.org.au.

Heated times in Education

The educational year has begun once again. Hot topics are not just related to climate factors this time [Is there a school policy for heatwaves ?] either. A new report from the Grattan Institute has been released as have a range of responses to it. An Australia Day speech by Professor Michelle Simmons. States and territories said to be cutting education funds. The future of the Education Investment Fund. Is there a crisis in public education ?. And the list continues ...

The speech by Michelle Simmons was a beauty [see section below for the link and a further descriptor]. While it covered her life story, it also addressed a need which she emphasised. This is concern over shortcomings in Physics education and the reasons behind it. This at a time when the need for rigour and higher standards in areas such as this [changes are afoot fortunately] has never been greater. Her concerns were echoed in another article titled Time to energise physics. Well worth reading.

The Grattan report - Engaging Students : Creating classrooms that improve learning probably had the biggest impact. Multiple articles were written, criticisms given, suggestions made and more. Allied to this was commentary such as Is there a crisis in public education ?, previously mentioned.

The initial descriptor of the report indicated - Australia’s education system needs comprehensive reform to tackle widespread student disengagement in the classroom. As many as 40 per cent of school students are unproductive in a given year. Disengagement is nothing new. The figure provided was the startling feature. However, they are at pains to stress ‘the main problem is not the sort of aggressive or even violent behaviour that attracts media headlines’.

They then go on to provide a range of comments ending with the statement Successful reform offers the prospect of a virtuous circle in which students are more engaged, teachers are less stressed, classes become more compelling and students learn more.

To get the full impact and clearest understanding of the report, a full reading is advised. You may also wish to listen to a podcast with Pete Goss discussing the report.

Among the media feedback were articles such as Not disruptive, just disengaged [The Australian], Switched-off students as bad as rowdy ones [EducationHQ Australia], Almost half of Australian school students bored or struggling, says Grattan Institute [The Guardian], and Mainstream schools need to take back responsibility for educating disengaged students [The Conversation]. Most cover the major factors and suggestions in the report, others go a little further.

Perhaps the most interesting response was found in Experts challenge validity of Grattan report on disengaged students. It begins by saying Education experts have picked apart a new report on student disengagement, calling into question its methodology and “sweeping claims” on teaching and learning in Australian classrooms. When are they going to say what they really think ? Experts including Dr David Zyngier, John Hattie and Edmond Misson provide commentary.

Zyngier indicates he has talked to Peter Goss and made his concerns known, including about research which was not considered. Hattie suggests the ‘report is focussed on the wrong issues’ and defends teaching staff for the job they are doing. More tellingly, he indicates ‘The days of silent, compliant, teacher-controlled classes [are] going - hence much of what is in the Grattan report was written for a previous era’. Misson indicates ‘These figures are good for promoting a discussion, but there’s probably a more complex discussion that we need to have about engagement in our classrooms’.

Each certainly has points to make, but perhaps Misson’s comment is the one to bring it most into perspective. If the figures are true, then there is a problem but, as we indicated above, the problem is not new, just the figures. My own memory brings to mind multiple students in classes over the years who may have qualified for such a category. Again in nowhere near the numbers suggested and certainly not for want of trying by all involved with them.

A number of potential solutions are offered such as the following. Creating a good learning environment [though there are multiple options for this]; more supervised time in classrooms for trainee teachers; knowing and being able to implement strategies that work best in classrooms; targeting more support for classes in poorer areas; mentoring and watching other teachers in action.

All worthy in their own right and in many cases, nothing that is particularly new either. Some are being addressed already. Some may never be possible, for a host of reasons - political, financial, dysfunction between multiple levels of responsibility, ... . Which brings us back to the experts.

Misson is right when he says the figures are good for promoting a discussion. But the discussion cannot go on forever. Any worthwhile discussion leads to conclusions, implementations, change [for the better one hopes] and further review. Perhaps Hattie is even more correct when he suggests we should be looking at the positives of ‘why so many teachers and schools are so successful in engaging students in learning’.

The responsibility though, seems to be placed squarely at the feet of only one component of the learning process. It can be argued they are the most important; the most trained; the most resourced; ... . But what of other groups ? What roles and responsibilities are allocated to families and to the students themselves ? It will be interesting to see where this reports takes us, or if it simply becomes another report, rather than a gamechanger which helps fix a legitimate problem.

And finally, back to Michelle Simmons. It may be slightly out of context but it struck me as being apropos when she said ‘When we reduce the quality of education that anyone receives, we reduce the expectations we have of them. If we want young people to be the best they can be [at anything] we must set the bar high and tell them we expect them to jump over it. My strong belief is that we need to be teaching all students - girls and boys - to have high expectations of themselves’. It applies not just to education but to every aspect of their lives.

There are recently produced items that warrant at least a brief mention. See what you think about each and whether you agree or not. Follow each link that piques your particular interests.

2017 Australia Day Speaker : Professor Michelle Simmons
‘Professor Simmons’ Australia Day speech focused on the need for Australians to attempt the difficult things in life. “My strong belief is that we need to be teaching all students - girls and boys - to have high expectations of themselves.”’ This came as she ‘expressed her horror at the “feminised” nature of the HSC Physics curriculum’ which she saw as not being beneficial to anyone. Watch a video of the presentation or read the transcript. Well worth the time to do so.

“We wouldn’t want to be where you guys are, that’s for sure”
Inside Story. ‘Schools in Australia and New Zealand set off in opposite directions in the 1970s. Tom Greenwell looks at where they have ended up’. A fascinating read.

Out-of-field teaching in Australian secondary schools
A research article by Paul Weldon for ACER. It ‘considers the extent to which Australian secondary school teachers are teaching subjects other than those in which they have specialised. It provides new data on the extent of out-of-field teaching overall and in a selection of subject areas’. This has certainly been an area of concern for some considerable time and one still needing to be fixed.

Engaging Students : Creating classrooms that improve learning
The report which brought much of the recent angst to the fore. It is not a new problem though it is certainly an important one and appears to be growing. See the article above.

The world is watching Australia’s decline in schools education. We know how to fix it, but the parents must listen
John Hattie is always worth reading and never more so than in this fairly short article from The Conversation. As he concludes, ‘It is time for a reboot’.

Quality Counts 2017 : Report and Rankings
Education Week. For those who want to make a comparison with overseas education, this site provides a mass of information about the American system. There is a summary plus featured stories, state information and more. ESSA is a dominant factor in the reporting.

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