‘I like to watch’

An open and honest reflection from a ‘newish’ teacher about the benefits of teachers watching others teach. Worth a read.

“Classroom management is something I completely understand in theory and I even know the dance steps, but I can’t seem to keep from tripping over my two left feet.

I know I have to set up good procedures from the beginning and stick to them, but I never seem to have the right ones.”



NAPLAN data can be an extremely useful tool for schools as it provides some valuable data on how well students have grasped some of the fundamental skills of learning. This data can then be used to support future teaching and learning activities and allow teachers to target specific areas of strength and weakness of their students. Teachers regularly seek feedback and data from their students learning and NAPLAN is another source of this data. If the data is considered in perspective and is not considered the be all and end all of teaching then it can be valuable data for teachers.

In my thinking the value one places on NAPLAN data will correlate with how important they think the skills that are being assessed are, and how valid and reliable the data is considered to be. The argument against the validity and reliability of the data is that it is a one off test on one day and student performance would be affected by tiredness, sickness, motivation etc. Fair points indeed but if teachers are using their own data to compare with NAPLAN and using this the validate their own testing then they will have a fair idea of whether a student has had a bad day and can consider this in using the data. In regards to the importance of the skills that are being assessed – for me they are important. Reading, writing, comprehension and numeracy are skills that underpin learning and we are far more likely to be able to achieve our loftier learning goals if we have students with a good grasp of the basics. For me it does not have to be one or the other in regards to ‘basic skills’ or ’21st century learning skills’. We can have, and really need both.

Myschool is where it all falls apart for me. League table type comparisons can be extremely harmful and turn what is a diagnostic test that can provide useful data for teachers, into a high stakes test that causes everyone to lose focus of what the test is actually for. Once we make NAPLAN our central learning goal then we have problems as it can lead teachers and schools to teach to the test, modify teaching practice to suit the tests and narrow the curriculum so more time can be spent practicing and preparing for the test (amongst many other problems). There are very real consequences to the publishing of these results that are most harmful to those most in need of help and support.

My issue is not with the NAPLAN tests but with the myschool website. Get rid of it and we have a useful tool. But if we are stuck with myschool then I think as teachers we need to do our best use the data where we can, ask questions and reflect on what we do and move forward without tying ourselves down to the high stakes testing mentality. We need to find ways to address these basic skills using a wide range of teaching and learning styles and philosophies and share best practice in doing so. For example, how are teachers who are using a project based learning approach addressing these basic skills in their teaching and learning that work for them and their students.

The unfortunate reality is that ‘myschool’ puts a lot of pressure on principals and teachers to get results fast and this can lead to all of the negatives talked about above.

Information Overload and action

Reality check – I need to do a lot more with the ideas that I have and refine my PLN to a more manageable level. While I have not necessarily contributed a great deal of late I have read as much or more than ever but I am not sure it is improving my teaching in proportion to the amount of time I spend in my PLN.

For me, my reading and interaction with the web is largely a professional matter as I try to learn more and access quality resources and ideas that will benefit the students I teach. But at the end of the day an idea is only worthwhile if it leads to action and I think this is where I need to focus more effort. I think there comes a time when you have to draw a line and make a call and put into action what you think is best at that point in time. I am holding off on a few things waiting for a better way to do it, or further evidence to support it, or evidence contradicting it and find this quite frustrating now that I have recognised this.

So current goal is to put into action some of the ideas that have been floating around and refine as I go rather than trying to dish it up perfectly. I also need to refine my PLN and look at the time I spend engaged in web based professional learning and look for more efficient ways of doing this.

Teaching is a marathon not a sprint race.

Inspire Conference

I have been trying something different at the inspire conference by taking my notes in twitter and getting them to feed into a program called cover it live. It basically gives me a stream of the points I found interesting and a web history that I can go back to. Unfortunately the wireless was a little flaky but I like the idea as this can also be shared with others back at school who can either keep an eye on what’s happening live or check it out at a later date. Here is the feed for the two days.

2009 wrap up (a little late)


2009 finished in a real whirl with term 4 being one of the more hectic terms I have ever been through, hence the late reflection. It was a year overall where the blogging dropped off a fraction and that is something I aim to rectify this year. This was in part to finally having a look at twitter and I must say it is a great tool for coming across resources. While I have not posted as religiously as most I regularly read and come across great resources on a regular basis using twitter. Twitter has quickly become a staple in my professional learning and I see this continuing in 2010.

Term 4 began with presenting at the PDHPE conference which was a great experience and while a little out of the comfort zone, it was something I enjoyed and hope to do again. The presentation was repeated in a webinar at the end of term and that was a very different experience. Presenting to a blank screen and knowing there were 60 odd other particpants at the other end was hard to get the head around. Resources for both presentations are at – http://ictinpdhpe09.pbworks.com (conference) & http://ictinpe.wikispaces.com (ACHPER Webinar). Both workshops were really just introductory teasers into what is out there and showcased a range of simple but powerful apps that can be used by teachers to enhance teaching and learning. It looks as though ACHPER might run a range of ‘how to’ workshops this year and I look forward to being involved in these if the option arises.

Towards the end of the term the position of Learning Technologies Coordinator came up at Magdalene and this was a key driver behind the unusually hectic ending to the term. Applying interviewing and receiving the job meant I had to tie up all things associated with PDHPE Coordinating and get my head around a new role in the final weeks of term. No small feat and I think it will take some time yet to get my head around the new role!

As mentioned in the previous post, the end of they year had a tragic ending which really shook my world and the beginning weeks of 2010 will be particularly difficult with my next door neighbour to be in the staffroom no longer there. What I have come out of the experience with is a strengthened commitment to helping others and really focusing on the ‘human element’ of being a teacher. It was without doubt Kev’s strength and effective relationships are so crucial to teaching. While I often get caught up in the busyness of work, I aim to ensure that this year I invest time and effort in developing the great relationships I have with the students and teachers at Magdalene as at the end of the day, to me, it is what teaching is all about.


“Teachers do not write on inanimate objects but on the hearts and minds of human beings”


In attending the funeral of Kevin Wade today (a magnificent teacher from Magdalene) the above quote jumped into my head when I saw a mass of students exit the church to form a guard of honour. On Christmas eve, so many students donned their full school uniform in stifling heat to pay their respects to a man who had taught and cared for them. He had clearly touched the lives of  so many students and I can see just why so many students would have felt this way when I think about how he treated everyone he met. He was a larger than life personality who made everyone around him feel good and he had a genuine care for other people.

The eulogy mentioned that he was doing his dream job and would not change it for the world and I think teaching can be like that. At its core is working with people and while they may forget the formulas he taught them, they will never forget how he treated them, nor will anyone who was lucky enough to cross his path.

You have clearly taught them well Kev and you would have been so proud to see just how many lives you touched.

Thanks for the laughs and memories Kev.  RIP mate.

Feedback for teachers

After reading parts of John Hattie’s visible learning it really re-emphasised the importance of feedback being so critical for student learning. Any educator knows that feedback has a huge impact on learning, especially if it is timely, specific and provides direction on ways to improve.

And this got me to thinking about just how little feedback we get as teachers.

Besides having prac teachers in my classes a few times a year I get very little feedback from students or other teachers on my performance as a teacher. It largely comes down to my intuition and personal reflection on lessons and in the busyness of school life, quite a few lessons unfortunately get very little reflection.

This to me is a real shame as I know there are lots of areas of my teaching that I could use some tweaking on and quite possibly areas that require attention that I am not conscious of. And the reality is that a lot of these things go unnoticed and I never have the opportunity to improve in those areas and ultimately provide better learning opportunities for students.

While I have been surveying students regularly on my teaching (love google forms!!) I think there is a lot to be said for having another teacher critique what happens in the classroom and engage in discussion around this.

How much could good quality feedback help improve my teaching?

Can the tool bring the learning to life

Following on from my last post I guess a similar question could be asked about the effectiveness of using computer/web based tools to cover fairly basic and fundamental knowledge.

Is it worth spending considerable time learning and utilising a tool which does engage students, to complete an activity which students can learn just as easily and much faster using more traditional methods. What is the cost / benefit analysis of the tool? How much time is it worth spending for the learning that we want to take place. In a crowded curriculum I find this to be an important question to ask.

So can the tool bring learning to life? If it is core content that we feel is essential for students to understand can the tool engage the students and help them develop a deeper understanding that would have been difficult using traditional means or a teacher directed approach. For content that students may perceive as boring but teachers and society considers important, can the tool be used to switch on the students mind and engage them with the subject matter. If so then the tool may very well serve its purpose.

Another important question to ask is whether the students are simply engaged in the tool as opposed to the learning and are teachers measuring the learning that is taking place to be able to answer this question.

Constructivist v instructivist approach

I have started making crude summaries of some of the reading/listening I have been doing and do this on google docs so I have access to them everywhere. The latest book (What teachers need to know about teaching methods) & listening Why students don’t like school) have questioned some of the thinking behind the constructivist approach to teaching. Particularly it has suggested that for basic skills and fundamental knowledge a instructivist or teacher centred approach can be far more effective. Once this basic knowledge has been gained student centred, constructivist approaches can be effective at developing the ’21st century skills’ (which are not new skills but are becoming more and more important in this day and age such as collaboration and critical thinking). Neither suggest that one way is better than the other as such just that each method has a purpose and needs to be used to achieve appropriate goals.

Is there ever a case for using a constructivist approach to help learners understand fundamental knowledge?

I notice a lot of teachers will use a range of methods which on the surface may not appear to be the most efficient method for the learning goals stated, but claim that the method engages students in their learning and so is therefore effective. They may be considered to be using constructivist approaches for teaching fundamental knowledge which apparently can be taught more effectively in a direct manner.

Eg: For road safety if I was looking at students developing an understanding of the major factors leading to accidents, a sample project may be to have students work in teams to research and create a presentation (movie, podcast, ppt etc) for teenagers about the major risk factors for having an accident. The time required would be significant and the quality of a number of the group presentations could quite possibly be relatively poor.

Am I better off developing my skills as a lecturer/presenter and delivering this myself to develop their fundamental knowledge around the area or can the collaborative approach be more powerful and engaging and help students develop a deeper understanding of the issue?

Should I combine the two approaches and always directly teach the essential, fundamental knowledge and then use the student centred approach to deepen their knowledge or is there justification for leaving them to their own devices in a well planned project and letting them discover this fundamental knowledge, even though this goes against the research based evidence?

Why students don’t like school – interview summary

Just listened to this interesting discussion on Daniel Willington’s new book – “Why students don’t like school” and made a crude summary of the points I found interesting below. I think I expected him to be an advocate for technology and new models of schooling based on the name of the book only. It was refreshing to come across some ideas challenging some of the accepted wisdoms of learning and I am currently going through his website and digging up lots of other interesting stuff. 
Much better to listen to the actual interview as my wording has quite possibly changed the meaning of a few of his points but here it is anyway.
Cognitive sweet spot – people like learning new things but only under certain circumstances. Learning has to be challenging but not too hard or too easy. Can be difficult to set challenging activities for a mixed ability class of 30 students that hit the ‘cognitive sweet spot” for all students. If activities are not in this cognitive sweet spot then is unlikely to be interesting or engaging for student.
21st century learning/skills – goals of 21st century skills are great but question is that the goals are not new so why is it going to be different this time. Has been tried previously and failed. Higher order thinking skills are important but are not new. Technology is a small part of 21st century learning. Major thrust is about problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration which is not new. Current circumstances make these skills more important than in the past for school leavers but is not convinced current models are the right ones.
Constructivist approaches –  The argument seems to be that the learning should look like the mental processes but does not necessarily agree to this. Get into trouble when we use the idea to influence models of pedagogy. When we leap to the idea that we construct everything so we let the student do a lot of that constructing. Whether we use discovery learning, guided discovery or direct instruction they are still constructing knowledge. Cannot have a ‘passive receptor’ of knowledge. It is possible to have very effective lecture style, didactic learning and possible to have very poor learning this way – just as it is possible to have great & poor student centred learning activities.
You can’t think critically about something unless you have a strong background knowledge. Back to basic vs 21 st century skills- need them both – need a good knowledge of facts to be able to really develop higher order skills. 
21st century advocates would argue that the balance has been to heavy around facts and looking for a better balance. 
The way that accountability has been handled means that examinations dominate the education landscape as the key accountability measure. These largely encourage learning bits and pieces of knowledge that are not integrated. Fact collecting and fact teaching. 
Multiple intelligence – different people have different abilities – importance of goals in using multiple intelligence theory in schooling. Gardner says that just because there are multiple intelligences does not mean that you have to teach to them all in schools – depends on the goals of schooling – economic, self actualisation, social etc. Eg economic – would not focus on all intelligences – self actualisation – would try and develop them all. 
Can’t cover everything in schools – better to cover a limited amount of material and develop in students a deeper understanding of that material. eg maths – cover 6 or 7 topics and repeat them over 4 yrs. Better performing countries cover limited topics but develop deeper understanding. Procedural knowledge is developed in drill and repetition but students lacking conceptual knowledge. Once taken out of context students struggle to apply the knowledge.
Technology – will it change the way we think – Web 2.0 tools – the fact they exist will not change things – it will depend on whether we can find ways to leverage them in a way that is useful. Greater possibility for more interaction but someone still needs to know something – much more information available . Greatly increases the burden on the student to differentiate the interesting and useful information from the non-useful. There are more opportunities for learning – still need to be able to differentiate the information.

Daily Telegraph reply

Saw an interesting article in the daily telegraph today that I thought it raised a lot of good points about issues with the current computer roll out. I disagreed with one point and have included my reply.

“Personal computers, desktops and laptops are as the name indicates intended for personal use and not classroom teaching. They are not, and never will be an appropriate technology for teaching a whole class.”

Perhaps not in the traditional sense where the teacher stands at the front of the room and attempts to fill the heads of students with information that they must regurgitate for a test, but they can be extremely powerful classroom tools if you are looking to have students create and construct knowledge and look at alternative models of schooling that are more relevant to the age we live in. Constructivist learning theories are well supported by a digital classroom and they provide the opportunity to create student centred learning environments and diversify learning to make learning more relevant and engaging to students. 

An internet connected laptop is by far the most powerful learning tool we have ever had access to, but I agree that it all comes down to the ability of the teacher to harness the tool and create experiences for learning and this is the bit the government seems to have missed. Professional development and teacher ability is the key to making this worthwhile and this unfortunately appears to be an afterthought, as opposed to the foundation of the initiative.