Reflections on My Time Curating EduTweetOz

I was extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to host EduTweetOz Twitter account during the first school week for 2014. EduTweetOz provides an invaluable platform for collaboration amongst teachers, particularly those in rural/remote communities. Additionally, EduTweetOz facilitates teachers with a forum to canvass issues that concern them, and allows teachers to self-advocate for change. It’s an incredibly empowering environment to be a part of.

When Michelle and Corrine first contacted me about hosting my initial reaction was utter terror. With just three years teaching experience under my belt I was dubious as to whether I had the knowledge, skill, or expertise to host a Twitter account that has 3,500 followers. With so many experienced and well-respected educators previously curating EduTweetOz (and doing amazing jobs) I was concerned I would be woefully inadequate. I was unsure if I had enough to talk about, and whether my lack of teaching experience would be held in contempt – what could I possibly contribute to a discussion on education? I considered declining the offer; purely out of fear of ‘failure.’

However, after further reflection I decided that his opportunity was too good to let pass me by. I love a good discussion on education, I love talking about my research in mathematics education, and I love improving my knowledge of education. Hosting EduTweetOz facilitate me to do all these things.

So I started planning. I made an extremely colourful Excel table divided up into the days of the week so I could determine what I wanted to tweet about. Each day had a particular focus or theme: Australia day, starting back at work, advice for beginning teachers, and so forth. My planning document included discussion questions, links to articles I had read and written, and cartoons and pictures I had seen. I tried to vary my discussion questions, with some focussed on getting to know people, others on aspects of teaching practice, and others with a more political slant. I take the notion that ‘perfect preparation prevents poor performance’ seriously, and found this planning time invaluable in preparing me mentally for the week ahead.

In my planning I consider what issues were pertinent to me as an educator. My English Extension 1 teacher, in a unit on narratives, informed us we should ‘write what we know.’ I apply this approach to my own blogging, tweeting, and now to curating. What do I know about? I know about being an Early Career Teacher, about growing up and teaching in regional areas, about maths education, and about my research (self-reflection, constructivism, metacognition and the affective domain). By taking the time to consider these topics I felt assured I had a diverse range of subjects with which I could tweet about confidently.

Nervous as anything, I logged into the EduTweetOz twitter account last Sunday, a flurry self-doubting questions dominating my cognition. Have I prepared good enough tweets? Will people engage in discussion? Am I way out of my depth? My fears were quickly allayed: responses came rapidly and from a variety of educators as we launched into a discussion of reporting and the state of mathematics education. It was challenging. It was confusing keeping track of the volume of replies. But it was fun. I loved it.

Some time on Monday I had the idea of asking teachers to share photos of their workspaces and tag it #ETOphoto. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers invest much time and effort (and expense!) into preparing their classrooms and developing them into environments conducive to quality learning. They are rightly proud and deserve to be. I considered this exercise would also be an opportunity to get to know each other a little better, and to share some ideas about what works in a classroom. I would encourage future hosts to run a photo challenge: there’s many different avenues available!

Maintaining a balance between my own work (study) and the curating the EduTweetOz account (in addition to normal ‘life’) was one of the most significant challenges of my week. It was necessary for me to form some strict guidelines for myself regarding frequency and duration of how often I would be online. Even so, it could be challenging not to open twitter just to ‘check in.’

On the whole, however, I found hosting EduTweetOz conducive to study. Engaging discussions with other educators increased my personal momentum for my own work, as it left me energised and excited to learn more about education. In addition, teachers would frequently tweet me a diverse range of articles, thus increasing the scope of my professional reading. Finally, hearing a range of different perspectives from teachings has significantly deepened my personal understanding of education in Australia. I’ve made some wonderful connections this week, and I am sincerely grateful for everyone who took the time to participate in discourse with me.

Curating EduTweetOz has been one of the highlights of my teaching career. It is rare as a young teacher to have the opportunity to connect with such a multifarious range of educators. To have the platform to share my own thoughts and experiences, and to highlight the aspects of education I find most interesting and concerning. I thoroughly recommend contacting Michelle or Corinne to express your interest in hosting EduTweetOz. It is not an easy job, but it is incredibly worthwhile.

You can check out the storify of some of my days hosting here, here, here, and here.

Madeline

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Anorexia is not an adjective

To Whom It May Concern:

It was with great sadness and frustration that I read the article Housing Crisis by Louis Nowra in this weekend’s (25th Janurary) Good Weekend.

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In particular, I took great objection to Nowra’s description of arriving at a house ‘to be greet by an anoxeric [sic] woman.’ Anorexia is a mental illness; a medical condition. It has no place in a description of anyone not diagnosed with such a condition, especially someone the author (apparently) has not warmed to, as this frames the condition as something of which the sufferer should be embarrassed.

Leukemia is a medical condition. Anorexia Nervosa is also a medical condition. When was the last time you described someone as “leukemic”? The trend in reducing an incredibly serious condition to a descriptive moniker synonymous with “thin” is incredibly reductive and erases the suffering of those affected. Anorexia is a noun, referring to an individual who is living with the tortuous disease that has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The mortality rate for individuals with eating disorders is 12 times that in people without eating disorders. Perhaps the word Nowra was searching for was the adjective anorectic, which refers to having no appetite, a loss of appetite, or an individual that is diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.

Grammatical and orthographical tussles aside, neither ‘anorexic’ nor ‘anorectic’ is an appropriate way to describe someone’s body type. Why? Because people diagnosed with anorexia come in all shapes and sizes, and using it as a synonym for “thin” erases sufferers and undermines their selfhood.

 When the media acts with such apparent disregard to the thoughts and feelings of those affected by anorexia it perpetuates a culture of stigmatisation of mental illness. It has to stop. I implore editors to act with responsibility and sensitivity.

Perhaps it may be prudent for the editors and authors alike to reflect upon the Mindframe media guidelines for responsible reporting of eating disorders.

For more information see the National Eating Disorders Collaboration or the Butterfly Foundation.

Kind regards,

Madeline Beveridge

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No post on Sundays

Well it’s not Sunday, but there’s not going to be an original post on Matthitude this week unfortunately!

I’ve been hosting EduTweetOz, which I’ve enjoyed immensely. You can check out a storify of what I’ve been up to here, here and here.

I’m also extremely excited as I heard from my principal tonight and I’m good to go with data collection. Just need to make a time to meet with the maths HOD and teacher I’m working with and we’re good to go. It’s amazing to think that I’m at this point. Data collection will take most of term one and involve surveys, interviews and observation. I’m analysing students’ interactions to look at how self-reflection and metacognition impact on students’ academic decision-making.

Next week’s post will probably be about Self-Regulated Learning: what is is, how to help develop it, and what the benefits of it are.

Enjoy the rest of your week.

Madeline

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Madeline Beveridge: Maths teacher, blogger and researcher

Reblog: This week I’m hosting the EduTweetOz twitter account. The following is my responses for a little introductory ‘interview’ I did.

Edutweetoz

Madeline Beveridge will be taking over the reigns of EduTweetOz on the evening of Sunday, January 26, following an inspiring week from primary principal, Jason Borton.

Madeline

She’s been keeping a blog, Mathitude for the last 6 months which is always very thoughtful and interesting, and she has the ability to explain some pretty complex issues in clear terms.

I find I learn a lot from her blogs and twitter presence., She often causes me to pause and reflect critically on what I think about things, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she’ll bring to the account this week.

Here are her answers to our five questions:

Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?

I very much consider myself a ‘beginning…

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Why I blog

I was recently approached by Corinne Campbell to guest host the EduTweetOz twitter account in 2014. My initial response was a combination of gentle nervousness and extreme terror as I questioned my ability to continue the incredibly high standard of information sharing achieved by my predecessors in this role. After my immediate fears subsided I started reflecting on what prompted me to begin blogging and tweeting, and on what I perceive to be the benefits of these activities for teachers. When I first started writing Matthitude around six months ago, my primary aim was to improve my writing (practise makes perfect!) as I worked on my postgraduate research degree. In addition, I hoped to connect to other educators online and widen the scope of my professional reading. Upon reflection, however, I’ve come to realise that there are far more benefits of blogging and teaching to educators. Here are six of my favourite benefits to connecting with the online education community:

1. Connecting with other educators. Though this is slightly obvious, it bears a mention.Through blogging and tweeting I’ve dramatically widened the scope of educators I’ve connected to beyond anything I could have anticipated. Doing so has allowed me to see things in new ways, consider alternative approaches to education, and really broaden my field of understanding. Twitter exposes me to fresh thinking and totally new ideas and has invigorated my own teaching practice: it is hard not to feel enthusiastic about teaching when regularly connecting to passionate and inspiring educators. Furthermore, through blogging and tweeting teachers can develop online communities which offer support and rapport: something that is particularly important for educators in rural or remote regions.

2. Reflection. It’s no secret that reflection is significant element of my academic research. I’ve written on reflection for this blog several times before (here; here; and here) to highlight the invaluable nature of reflection in the classroom. The benefits of reflection aren’t restricted to students: they apply to all individuals in all industries, and even in our personal lives (including relationships and hobbies). John Dewey, who many consider to be the first real proponent of reflection, summarised the benefits of reflection thus:

“What [an individual] has learned in the way of knowledge and skill in one situation becomes an instrument of understanding and dealing effectively with situations which follow. The process goes on as life and learning continue” (1938, p. 44).

It is through reflection that we make latent thought processes explicit. It is through reflection that we acknowledge our successes (and shortcomings). It is through reflection that we learn from our experiences in order to become better educators. Tweeting and blogging serves to be a prompt to increase the frequency of self-reflection. I realised I’ve started a number of blog posts lately with “this prompted me to reflect…” When engaging with other educators on twitter I am compelled to consider how their experiences apply to my life.

3. Blogging helps to crystalise thinking. Following from the above point on reflection, blogging has caused me to examine my own teaching practice and clarify my position on a number of issues. Writing serves to transform these thoughts and ideas from being abstract to concrete. The process of editing causes me to really hone in and refine my thinking on a variety of issues, so I can clearly articulate my own perspective.

 4. Feedback. Feedback is critical for growth and development. Without reflection and feedback we stagnate: and feedback is equally as important for beginning teachers as it is for my more experienced colleagues. As with reflection, feedback is a time to acknowledge successes (and note areas for improvement) and develop necessary strategies required for progress. I love receiving comments on my articles. A positive comment or “I agree” warms the cockles of my heart. A critique, or alternate perspective provides me with food for thought, often prompting me to consider a different angle or acknowledge shortcomings in my thinking. In addition, feedback via blogs and twitter can provide affirmation of one’s experiences: ideas, victories, successes can easily be dismissed in isolation, but when they are acknowledge by another individual they become more ‘real.’ In particular, as a beginning teacher, (with less than five years experience) I have been critical of what I can contribute to discussions on education. However, through feedback and discussions with other educators, I can know acknowledge that I bring my own, unique, and valuable perspective to the table.

5. Generation of personal momentum. Connecting with others via twitter and wordpress has generated huge levels of motivation for me: feeding into both my work as a teacher, and as a researcher. Blogging causes me to lift my game: when I hit ‘publish’ I know that my article or tweet is out on the web for all to see. Including future employers. I want to be the best teacher and researcher I can be, to ensure that the image I present online is authentic.

6. Professional Development. The professional development that is brought about through online engagements is some of the best I’ve experienced. The research that I do for my articles has broadened my understanding of a diverse range of educational issues, including some which would not have crossed my radar without online engagement with other educators. This research is consolidated through educational ‘debates’ on twitter and writing of articles for Matthitude. It’s also one of the cheapest (if not THE) cheapest forms of professional development. Forums such as EduTweetOz and Learning Frontiers provide daily avenues for collaboration amongst educators and sharing of ideas, and are accessible for educators right across the country. Living in a rural area it can be difficult to access professional development: PD generally requires an (expensive) trip to the nearest capital city. Twitter and WordPress brings these educators into my living room (and technically bedroom too, but lets not get weird). This is in addition to the professional development that occurs via points one to five above.

Undoubtedly there are innumerable reasons for educators to get engaged online. The enormous growth that has occurred over the past few years will only continue as more and more educators see the benefits of logging in. For beginning teachers, or those new to Twitter or WordPress, I really encourage you to become involved. For some hints on where to start, check out this informative image of some of the most used (education-relevant) hashtags on twitter, (via Travis Lyon).

Happy blogging!

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Read more

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New YorK; Collier Books, Macmillan.

http://www.chicagonow.com/white-rhino/2013/05/top-10-reasons-teachers-should-blog/ 

http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2014/01/10-social-media-skills-for-21st-century.html

http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.au/2011/07/seven-reasons-teachers-should-blog.html

http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/2350

http://rtschuetz.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/top-10-reasons-why-teachers-should-blog.html

 

 
   

 

 

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Thinking about Metacognitating…but what is it, how do I do it, and why?

Metacognition is a key theme in my research and something I’m really interested in. I’ve recently spent some time revisiting the literature to strengthen my understanding of the topic, and it’s left me feeling really revitalised and reinvigorated about how useful metacongiition is for a range of learners. The purpose of this post is to outline the concepts behind, and processes involved, in metacognition. Additionally, I’ll discuss some of the benefits explicit instruction in metacognitive strategies in the classroom.

What is metacognition?

Metacognition, literally means ’thinking about thinking’ and is an individuals’ capacity to monitor and regulate mental activities, including cognitive processes and products (Ozsoy, 2011). Metacognition encompasses far more than this simplistic description suggests. Aspects of metacognition include:

  • reflecting on the nature of thinking and learning;
  • understanding one’s own mental capacities and memory capabilities;
  • an understanding and appreciation of effective learning strategies; and
  • planning, monitoring, and evaluating successful task completion

(Deautel, 2009).

It is clear from this description that any initial conceptions of metacognition as a simple concept have been quickly allayed, however, this description has also served to signal some of the benefits of development of metacognition that will be later highlighted.

Metacognition incorporates the executive functions of self-monitoring and self-regulation. These two concepts are closely related, but distinct. Self-monitoring is a general awareness of what knows, understands and remembers. By contrast, self-regulation refers to specific executive control processes, including planning and evaluating thoughts and cognitive behaviour.  Hattie and Timperley (2007) consider self-regulation to be a combination of commitment, control, and confidence.

Metacognitive knowledge can be broken into three categories: knowledge of person; knowledge of task; and knowledge of strategy. Knowledge of person refers to a learners’ awareness of their (or others) thought processes. For example, you may have a student that describes themselves as ‘a good problem solver’ or ‘prone to distraction.’ As a teacher you may be aware that one particular learner is ‘focused’ and another has good attention to detail. By acknowledging these characteristics students and teachers develop an understanding of the skill-sets and attributes that particular learners bring to the table.

Understanding that different tasks require different skills and strategies falls under the banner of task knowledge. As we develop as students we learn that creating a concept map is an effective way of understanding a dense textbook chapter, that regularly reviewing difficult content improves our recall, or that  attending certain lectures requires large amounts of coffee and/or lollies.

Finally, strategy knowledge means knowing which strategy to use and when in order to successful complete a task. If a learner has good strategy knowledge it means they will be able to work more efficiently to select the most appropriate strategies based on their needs (Kaur & Areepattamannil, 2012).

We can best understand how to develop metacognitive knowledge by breaking it down into three phases. Depending on which literature you are reading these may be referred to as the planning or forethought phase; the monitoring phase; and the reflection or evaluation phase.

Firstly, the forethought phase involves knowing what learners do and do not understand (Giselaers, 1996) and setting goals for the task. This may be encouraged through the use of questions such as:

  • What type of task is this?
  • What am I going to do?
  • What skills or resources do I need?
  • What is my time-frame for completion?

During the performance (monitoring) phase students check how they are progressing towards meeting their goals. Students and teachers will use questions such as:

  • How well am I going?
  • What changes do I need to make to meet my goals?
  • How are my motivation levels?
  • Do I need to make adaptions to my goals?

Finally, the reflection phase (evaluation) prompts students to consider whether their goals were attained. Students will use self-assessment questions such as:

  • How well did my strategies work?
  • What could I do better next time?
  • What did I do well?

 

How can teachers help students develop metacognition?

There are number of strategies teachers can employ to develop metacognition. The above mentioned questions can be easily modelled by teachers: the more often they are modelled the more likely it is that students will develop the habit of independently asking these questions of themselves. Within my classroom, I have employed such questions at the end of lessons as a way of reviewing and reflecting upon the learning that has taken place, and to help students set intentions for study they will be completing at home. Alternatively, metacognition may be developed through activities such as journal writing, directed whole-class discussions.

 

Why do it though?

Too often we teach students content without really instructing them on how to make sense of it. Metacognition affords students the opportunity to understand their own learning process. The chances of students mastering concepts after a series of failures will not improve unless they understand where they have gone wrong (Ormrod, 2006). The purpose of metacognition is to equip students with skills and tools to understand their own learning processes better, so they can become more effective learners. As students grow their skill-set they will begin to acknowledge that learning outcomes are within their control: hence their sense of autonomy over their learning will increase. The result of this is learners that are engaged and self-directed.

 

Some other benefits of metacognition include:

  • Learning is more effective as learners have more adept strategies in goal setting, strategy selection, goal evaluation and reflection
  • Improving students critical thinking skills
  • Improving students capacity for deep understanding and cognition
  • Increased sense of student autonomy
  • Improved capacity to articulate ideas
  • Improved ability to monitor (and communicate) understanding and seek help for areas of confusion
  • Better problem-solving skills as students are able to select from a wider range of strategies. Ozsoy (2011) determined metacognitive ability accounts for 37% of success in problem solving
  • Poor problem solving is linked to lower metacognitive awareness

 

Concluding remarks

Metacognition is a skill that benefits teachers and learners alike. It is important that students are aware of the benefits of developing metacognitive strategies, so that students can appreciate their utility. In addition, it is important that care is taken to integrate metacognitive instruction, so that it is not viewed as an optional ‘add-on.’ Finally, teachers need to feel confident in employing these strategies within the classroom flexibly and with confidence. Due care must be taken to ensure that classroom environments are conducive to the development of the metacognitive strategies to ensure that teachers and students can successfully engage with and appreciate just how powerful these strategies are.

 

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The Case for Constructivism in Mathematics Cassrooms

I recently had some feedback on my post criticising Minster for Education Christopher Pyne (Pyne a Pain for Education in Australia).The comment suggested that many schools had taken the constructivist approach to teaching and learning too far, as a result, students were not spending enough time learning facts and were instead building too many dioramas and other meaningless inquiry-based projects. The comments prompted me to reflect on why exactly I am a proponent of constructivism: this article will address the case for constructivism in mathematics classrooms. Whilst I argue this from a mathematics background, I am sure many (if not all) arguments apply equally across other KLAs: we are discussing fundamental skills for 21st century learners, and these do not apply exclusively to mathematics.

Constructivism has emerged from mathematics reform in the 1980s and 1990s to be cemented as the fundamental approach to teaching and learning in the twenty-first century. However, its roots lie in the earlier work of psychologists such as Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky who challenged the traditional understanding of knowledge as the transmission of facts, instead considering learning as an adaptive function that required active engagement by students in order to be effective.

Constructivist approaches to education are supported by many mathematics and science teachers and are present in curriculum documents (see NSW BOS, ACARA, Victoria). The constructivist philosophy is driven by the premise that meaningful learning occurs when learners actively strive to make sense of new information, and consolidate new learning with an existing knowledge base. What exactly does this mean? Constructivism is not a pedagogical approach: but it is a model for learning. It is based on three core principles:

  1. That learning is active and reflective
  2. That learning is continuous, and learners should understand new experiences in the light of prior knowledge, and,
  3. That learning is social and requires interaction to develop deep conceptual understanding.

This theory is present in classes around the world: from kindergarten through to tertiary-level study.

Constructivism moves away from the notion that you can teach a person directly, instead seeing the ‘teacher’ as a facilitator of the learning process. The constructivist perspective posits that knowledge cannot simply be transferred from one individual to another: the learner must be actively, cognitively engaged in the learning process. As a facilitator, the teacher provides opportunities to engage with concepts, rather than instructing how to perform procedures. This means fundamentally changing one’s classroom perspective: favouring mastery and understanding over rote learning; valuing discourse; and promoting self-reflection.

Constructivsm ensures that current instruction is anchored within an existing body of knowledge. Predominating education until the 1960s and 1970s was the metaphor of a human mind as an empty bucket, with the role of learning being to fill it. Following this metaphor, one would consider the acquisition of new knowledge to be teachers handing students books (information), which were to be stored in a library (brain) and called on at will (‘knowledge’). In fact this is in no way true of education. Advances in modern cognitive science have highlighted the associative structure of memory as being its most important feature (Gijselaers, 1996). We refer to the structure of related concepts as semantic networks. The process of learning new knowledge involves its integration into existing networks: if new knowledge is better connected to existing structures it will be recalled and used more easily, whether its for solving problems, critical analysis, or basic factual information.

Vygotsky’s theory of socio-cultural development is key to the third principal of constructivism. Shared knowledge is a powerful learning environment. No man is an island and learning should not occur in ‘isolation’: solitary book-work, at desks, in silence. Verbal discourse forces learners to be adept communicators, and develop their capacity to reason and explain their thinking process: fundamental skills in the mathematics curriculum.

Constructivism is learner-centred: it considers the individual learner’s needs, ideals, cognitive abilities and perspectives. Student-centred learning accepts that students learn at different rates. By empowering students with tools in metacognition and reflection we can support them to develop autonomy over their learning, rather than forcing students to progress at the same rate. Students’ that participate in student-centred learning tend to have higher intrinsic motivation and superior critical-thinking and problem-solving schools compared to students learning in content-centred models (Zain, Rasidi & Abidin, 2012).

Traditional approaches such as lectures and rote memorisation are inadequate pedagogy. Whilst these methods may have their place, they approaches fail to equip students with adequate skills required for 21st century thinkers. As we move through the 21st century we are in an increasingly information-heavy society. I have access to far more information in my smart-phone than I did in any library when I was at school (less than ten years ago!). Skills in problem solving, critical thinking, reasoning and communication, and a capacity to be a responsible decision-maker. These skills are highly prized by universities and employers alike. Students need to be flexible, dynamic thinkers: this cannot be developed through pedagogy that emphasises the regurgitation of facts.

It is essential to know that constructivism is not synonymous with inquiry learning, problem-based learning or discovery learning. Constructivist approaches do no seek to deny the importance of basic mathematical knowledge, or base knowledge in any field. As a mathematics teacher I understand the importance of basic mathematical facts and procedural fluency: these skills are the lynchpin for learning. I emphasise the importance of students knowing their times-tables, of being able to quickly add and subtract, of having proficiency in algebra. I appreciate the time and place for repetition, for practice. However, in doing so, I acknowledge the constructivist philosophy. I strive to anchor new learning within an existing body of knowledge. I emphasise the importance of social interaction in generating understanding.

To segregate mathematics teachers as traditionalists versus constructivists, is to do students an injustice. The world is not black and white, and teaching is not black and white. It is important that we can incorporate the ‘shades of grey’ into classroom practice: to accept the time and place of different pedagogical strategies. There is no ‘one size fits all’ model for teaching, there is no silver bullet, and there never will be. However, by accepting the strengths of different educational philosophies and pedagogies, we can ensure that our teaching practice best suits our own needs as educators, as well as the needs of our students.

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Back to blogging

The trouble with doing a research degree at uni is that you don’t really conform to the normal uni breaks. Consequently, I either have breaks by ‘accident’ (when I realise after a day, or two… or a week, or two… that I haven’t done any work for a while) or I have to self-impose them.

Last year I decided to actually allocate myself a break for Christmas. A time to refresh and recharge. My year didn’t finish on the best of notes, and this time off was greatly needed.

So after having a suitably long break, I will be back to study and blogging as of tomorrow. I’m working on an article about shame for my ‘other’ blog RainbowRecoverED, and my first post back will probably be adapting this post for a more education/teacher-friendly audience. I want to do my best to stick to 500 words of blogging (minimum) a week. Aside from this I’ll be looking to keep abreast with contemporary issues in education, address some material around my research, and post based on areas of my work-life that has inspired me.

So happy new year to all! And I hope to connect with more of you in 2014.

Madeline.

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Being a ‘good teacher’ not a sufficient reason to remain in teaching

Recently I’ve been wrangling with the notion of whether I should remain in teaching. I went through this process last year, although for different reasons. At the end of 2012 I was finishing up my second year of full-time teaching. I counted myself fortunate that I had managed to secure two years of full-time work straight out of university. However, I had an extremely challenging year on both a professional and personal level in 2012. I was frustrated, bored, and struggled to see a vision for my future as a teacher. In acknowledging factors that contribute to rates of attrition in graduate teachers, it is important too that we explore areas that can be improved to better facilitate pre-service teachers transition into members of school’s faculties.  

There are no concrete figures on the number of teachers leaving teaching, however estimates place the attrition rates as high as 30% within the first three years of teaching. Why is this happening? And what can be done to improve the situation?

The oversupply of teachers has garnered media attention in recent months. The Sydney Morning Herald reported over 40,000 teachers were on waiting lists for permanent employment, with the oversupply expected to last until the end of the decade. Perhaps it’s not just a case of ‘good teachers leaving teaching:’ it’s a matter of good teachers not being able to get into teaching.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne is a proponent of attracting the best and brightest to teaching. With a UAI in the very high 90s, an Honours degree in Mathematics, and exemplary practicum reports, I feel like I am qualified to join Mr Pyne’s group. Yet I am one of the many recent graduate teachers that are unable to secure employment. It is challenging, at times, to sustain the motivation to remain in an industry when you know that your marks were suitably high enough to award you admission into almost any course and any field.

Spending years working as a casual teacher, or moving from contract to contract, is a frustrating and exhausting process. Are there any real solutions to this? I’m not sure.

A frustrating culture that pervades teaching is that you must ‘do your time’ in the classes that are ‘left over’ after other teachers have put in their preferences. Teachers that are later in their career (somewhat justifiably) feel as though they have earned the right to refuse to teach certain grades and year levels. These, usually the most challenging of classes, are often handed to the most junior teachers. The ones least equipped to deal with problem-behaviour. It may not be appropriate to hand graduate teachers senior classes, however, diversity in the teaching load is equitable and necessary.

Graduate teachers’ (and all teachers’) experiences could be improved by increased capacity for feedback and mentoring by more senior teachers. This would need to be supported by appropriate timetabling to ensure that mentorship is a priority, not a cumbersome burden that gets relegated to the bottom of the pile. Mentorship and feedback facilitates the capacity to celebrate the successes. It is easy to become caught up in a cycle of feeling as though one is inadequate. Taking time to acknowledge strengths (as well as areas for improvement) is crucial in generating a more positive self-image, self-confidence, and self-efficacy as a teacher.

Graduate teachers’ experiences could be greatly improved by including a more practical focus in preparatory courses: preparation that prepares you more for the ‘nuts and bolts’ of every day teaching. More focus on practicals strategies for classroom management. Learning how to prepare for parent-teacher-student interviews. Varied approaches to pedagogy. In addition, more could be done to explain different career pathways to beginning teachers, outside of the regular classroom job.

Of course there are many other factors that could be acknowledge (whilst appreciating that all jobs have their downsides). The time pressures and battle just to ‘get through content’ of incredibly dense courses limits ones’ capacity to be innovative. Limited resources, and poor access to professional development (particularly in rural and regional areas) can result in professional stagnation. The poor social value of teaching and education in Australia (where it’s encouraged and accepted to perpetually criticise teachers) is degrading and can wear at you.

There are as many varied and diverse reasons for teachers leaving teaching as there are teachers. What is apparent is that more can be done to support beginning teachers entering the profession, and those already in the profession. Quality education is dependent on quality teachers. Whilst teachers deserve every pay rise they receive, I believe few teachers are leaving teaching due to the money. It is important that we can take the time to clearly understand the reasons for teachers exiting the profession, to ensure we align solutions to these needs.

Read more:

 

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Equity is the real issue of PISA 2012

The triennial release of PISA results typically results in a flurry of articles from the press condemning the state of education in Australia. Reports inevitably lead to league tables, proclaiming how spectacularly other countries outperform Australia in education. I’ve previously spoken of the ‘crisis’ in mathematics education, and from media reports of the results ‘crisis’ seems the only logical conclusion to draw. However, I have somewhat revised my thinking on this issue based on a few key points.

Around 14,500 year 9 students from 775 schools across Australia participated in PISA in 2012. PISA assesses mathematical, scientific and reading literacy, and problem-solving skills. It includes a 30 minute questionnaire of student demographics, motivations for learning, and attitudes towards schooling.

Data from the 2012 PISA results indicates Australia performed at equal 17th in mathematics, equal 8th in science and equal 10th in reading out of 65 OECD countries. Between 2003 and 2009 the proportion of students achieving in the top band, and Australia’s relative ranking declined, with the portion of Australian students scoring in the top band, Level 5 and above, dropped from 19.9% to 16.5%. In 2012 it had fallen to 14.8%. Evidently, there are fewer students achieving in the top bands. Also concerning, is the number of students achieving below a band 2 in mathematics literacy: increasing from 13% in 2003 to 20% in 2012.

However, when discussing these results it’s important to bear in mind a few points. Firstly, we are still above the OECD average in all areas of the test (http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-overview.pdf). Secondly, in 2003 41 countries (including 30 OCD member countries) participated in the test. In 2012 34 OECD countries (65 countries overall) participated. It is logical to assume that with more countries participating in the programme, some countries will naturally do better than Australia: hence a direct comparison of rankings is not completely valid. In addition, we must take note that some of the higher-ranking ‘countries’ (Shanghai-China, Hong-Kong-China, Chinese Tapei, Macao-China and so forth) could be considered cities, rather than discrete countries. Finally, it is important to note that PISA, like all standardised testing, tells us how students score on one particular test on one particular day. It provides a snapshot, but an incomplete picture of education in a particular country. It neglects to address the nuances in education across countries and states.

One of the most striking issues from PISA 2012 is the issue of equity in Australian education.

A press release from Education Minister Chris Pyne’s office stated “We must take note of the decline in our international performance. PISA shows us that our education system is high-equity where socio-economic status matters less when compared to other OECD countries” and that “PISA has found that in Australia it matters more which teacher you are allocated as opposed to which school you attend.”

Mr Pyne, I beg to differ.

It is difficult to comprehend how education in Australia can be labelled ‘equitable’ when the comparison is to selected countries only. When the reality is that students in the highest socioeconomic group are the equivalent of two and a half years in front academically of students from the lowest socioeconomic group.

The impact that SES appears to have on achievement in Australia is deeply concerning and inequitable. Equity is one of the most significant challenges in contemporary education in Australia. Students from the lowest SES quartile are eight times more likely than the top quartile to have failed to meet the most basic levels of proficiency in PISA testing. Indigenous students generally reported lower levels of educational attainment than non-Indigenous students, and rural students’ performance on PISA was significantly lower than metropolitan students on 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2012 PISA tests. This is completely at odds with the “Aussie” notion of a fair go and equal opportunity for all.

PISA 2003 results revealed that self-efficacy is the strongest predictor of student achievement in maths. Again adding to the inequity in Australia, students of high SES have been shown to have higher self-efficacy than students of low SES.

However, in considering this we need to acknowledge the fairly significant factor of the remoteness of central Australia. We have to consider if we are really comparing apples to apples, when considering that the same test is sat by people from all over the world. How valid is it to compare New York’s Upper East Side to central Australia to students in Singapore?

Poland has improved rankings by shifting policy focus to matters of inequity, and similar measures should be applied in Australia. Gonski funding targets issues of inequity. We know that increased funding can improve student outcomes and that funding should be directed to schools of the greatest need. The Government’s double-backflip on delivery of funding is a strong indicator that Mr Pyne is in no way interested in solving the equity crisis in Australian education. (or something?)

Mr Pyne, in his press release, is proponent of the belief that “All the evidence shows that better outcomes are achieved by lifting the quality of teaching, ensuring we have a robust curriculum, expanding principal autonomy and encouraging more parental engagement.”

Pyne’s statement frustrated me greatly. Yes, I believe that changes need to be made in education in Australia. Yes, teacher quality is important. Studies have shown that teachers are the most significant impact on student achievement after students themselves. Improvements need to be made to teacher training: if I hear one more beginning teacher tell me they’re going to retrain in maths so they can get a job I’m going to scream. Pyne is on record as saying he favours a back-to-basics, direct instruction approach to learning, and that as Minister for Education he is keen to let everyone know ‘there is new management in town.’ Yet Pyne’s decisions seem to be based on his own (usually misguided) opinions, rather than fact or consultation with educators.

Many concerns have been raised by teachers as to how content-heavy the mathematics curriculum in Australia. Concerns of ‘too much to teach, too little time’ are a real concern when implementing reform. I shudder to think how we could get through even MORE material in order to achieve this ‘robust’ curriculum.

However, it is important that this does not distract from the real issues raised by PISA 2012.

If the take-home message for Mr Pyne is that Australia is a country of ‘high quality high equity education,’ he is gravely mistaken. The real take-home message is that as a country we must do better to target our most disadvantaged students. This starts, as always, with better funding.

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