Lesson Timing

Often I speak to pre service teachers (PST’s) during their placements in schools/classrooms and the feedback they are receiving is that their lesson timing needs to be tightened or a goal. This is fine if there is a shared understanding of what that means. In a practical sense I often use a model or theory to start with and in this case I’m using David de Sousa work around how the brain learns.

I then find myself drawing a picture similar to the one below:

I suggest we write up lesson plans as a timed document with the clock time in the first column as you usually look at a clock (on the back wall if your lucky). Next you specify the amount of time a section of the lesson takes e.g. 5 min lesson opening. In this post I won’t go into the specifics of what happening – just the timing. In the explicit instruction phase of the lesson say 10 min I suggest they use their phones count down timer set for 8 minutes (on vibrate only) – it allows the teacher to make a decision do I plough on with the skill or information I have cover or finish well with the few points I have made and leave the rest to the next lesson. Suggest the later = teach less best.

Not all lessons are 40 minutes in length and hear I note the following: because you have a longer lesson does not mean students can take more of the demonstrations of the skills or content. A trap for inexperienced players.

For further information please contact me or provide feedback or questions in the comments section.

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Sensibility on Reading – a balanced approach

I recommend that all new teachers and those in training watch this short 8 min video on the teaching of reading – its a balanced approach as the title indicates.

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Reading Instruction, Yes it’s still a debate!

Today, I’ve stumbled upon two “texts”, one a discussion podcast and one an article around the Science of Reading. As one who has taught and led the teaching of reading for many years in and around schools I find the voice of practitioners, of teachers either absent or not listened to or respected.

In trying to balance that I recommend these two sources as worth reading and listening to.

Talking out of school, a podcast

The Science of Reading: value of prior knowledge.

Have fun and join the debate.

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Changes to Teacher Training

Newspapers (e.g. Age , Sydney Morning Herald)are reporting that an “expert teacher education panel” recommendations have been accepted by the various States education ministers to reform initial teacher education.

The report identified several perceived weaknesses with initial teacher education includes not enough time in classrooms and a lack of course focus on teaching literacy, numeracy and classroom management.

Let’s first of all name one elephant in the room – its initial teacher education – universities cannot possibly provide all the experiences needed for inexperienced teachers to feel confident in handling all the expectations we place on teachers. Systems, schools and the profession itself have a hand in this through continued mentoring for at least 4 years and continued professional learning after that.

As a former experienced Principal who employed many graduate teachers and now as a casual academic for a university visiting preservice teachers in schools I think I have some experiences worth noting.

  • We are asking experienced teachers, some of whom are unconsciously skilled to mentor preservice teachers often without support. My conversations with these well intentioned mentor teachers is to help them ask questions and provide feedback that promote preservice teacher reflections for subsequent adjustments to their instructional practice.
  • To support preservice teachers not only to write up lesson plans that contain the expected student outcomes (course content) but to briefly describe their intended instructional sequence and strategies to engage and empower students in their learning. I say briefly because their specific improvement focus is where greater detail is required e.g transitioning students during a lesson.

I’ll stop there and ask for any feedback before I comment further.

Newspapers comment further on the report: The Australian.

Universities are obligated to have their initial teacher education course accredited I believe in Victoria through the Victorian Institute of Teaching.

I went to Melbourne Teachers College in the mid 1970’s before it was merged with Melb University. Our courses were considered basic when compared to Melb Univ courses for example I had to learn a musical instructment (the recorder) back then as I was expected to teach music as a classroom teacher to primary students.

The 1970’s teacher education presented as a period of change from the apprenticeship model where teaching was seen as a craft to a more scholarly model where we studied education as well as teaching.

What I would argue is that we need both – more time in classrooms where we practice the strategies and evidenced based models around instruction (initially taught through the University) as well as a scholarship voice allowing us to reflect upon our experiences.

Again I’ll stop this article and await feedback before pressing on.

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Teachers in Training

Why it’s important to notice and implement school routines.

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Reading Debates Continue: But what happens in classrooms?

It’s a long article on reading instruction but I think one worth some time and subsequent reflection. It purports that cognitive scientists again and again have proven that students need phonics to become “good” readers. It then goes on to suggest the 3 cueing systems are what “Bad” readers use. It concludes that balanced reading programs that use all 4 things (phonics, plus the 3 cueing systems) in fact don’t teach phonics at all.

To be fair, I may be simplifying the argument however it’s not what I see in many schools across Victoria and I would add that in my role as a University school liaison officer I see over 60-90 schools a year which is a reasonable sample.

I see many strong phonics programs which are a feature of Years F-2/3 students reading programs with cueing systems as well and by year 4 the balance is strongly on the cueing systems with some continuing instruction in phonics. School contexts vary this mixture as e.g. new English as a Second Language students enrol in various year levels.

I’d be interested in alternative views?

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Is it really behaviour management?

It’s been a while since I last posted – so I’m back.

In one of my professional roles I visit teachers in training while on placements in schools. While not exclusively a secondary school “thing” I see lesson times getting longer (76 minutes is the longest seen in 2022) and trainee teachers getting more and more feedback about behaviour management. The longer lesson times go across all sectors (Independent, Catholic and State).

So my wonderings include:

  • What evidence exists that the longer lesson time is more effective for student learning?
  • Is longer lesson times really about minimising student travel time via school lockers between classes?
  • What happens to student retention during this longer lesson time?
  • Is behaviour management more an outcome of “things” associated with long lesson times?

I’ve reflected on the work of de sousa and others and I would pose that for trainee teachers, at least, that the longer lesson times are in fact undermining their effectiveness as teachers. I’d suggest that trainee teachers for the most part don’t have the benefits of “closer” relationships with students, are sometimes not informed about individual student needs and in my point often replicate the commonly used lesson framework of I teach, you do the task model. So for 76 minutes it means I teach for 30+ minutes and students do a task for 36 minutes.

Hold on, I hear a few screaming that’s not a fair picture and for some I would agree because you do different things and use different models of teaching during the 76 minutes AND I’m happy to discuss that further.

BUT in most cases I observe (55+ student teachers in 2022) I hear feedback that they need to strengthen their behaviour management strategies. Yes trainee teachers do need strategies for this but I would suggest they “talk” for too long – don’t use interactive protocols – aren’t seeking student feedback often enough – their wait time is too short and try and teach way too much content.

So, and I’m happy to continue this conversation, I’d suggest trainee teachers need feedback on reducing their talk time – content delivery – transition time and student feedback so that behaviour management doesn’t become the main improvement goal.

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Single Figures Again

It’s been at least 10 years since I made single figures at my golf handicap and its a great feeling to be back again even though its a just made it 9.9. It’s winter as well and with the course wet and the ball not running its a challenge. I’m playing a bit more with Merryn now a member at Kew GC as well and I’m enjoying that as well.

My next target is to get more consistency with my fairway shots – I think that means a lesson soon. If I can improve there I have some chance to get more consistency in my scoring which you can see is up and down a little.

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It’s important to reflect on our “why”!

In doing work around equity in schools or using data wise improvement processes to build greater equity (LIFE OPPORTUNITIES) its important we found to know thy why.

A “why” may have a beginning – something that we reflected on that started our journey but it’s not a static thing – it keeps evolving as we grow in understanding – or it does in my opinion.

I have presented my “why” at several forums over the past few years – using pictures from my past and encouraging other educators to do the same in their school or team.

It’s no surprise then that the latest TV advertisement from Telstra attracted my attention. It may be of some use in this work.

Please share your thoughts.

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Teachers look at phonics anew after training

NSW this week became the second state after South Australia to introduce compulsory phonics screening for Year 1 students. Picture: Kerris Berrington

A recent article in the Australian Newspaper raised two points on the teaching of reading skills in schools:

  • States in Australia are increasing testing the phonic skills of students

“NSW this week became the second state after South Australia to introduce compulsory phonics screening for Year 1 students, and will also ensure phonics becomes a key component of early reading instruction from next year.”

  • Teacher beliefs are still strong about the need to teach meaning cue

“training did not substantially alter the views of participants who believed that meaning cues, rather than phonics knowledge, should be emphasised during children’s early experiences with reading.”

Rather than engage in the whole phonics vs whole language or meaning based debate on teaching reading I think both approaches or rather sets of skills are needed by students to effectively read in the 21st century. Most teachers do! Rather the issue for teachers might be time. Time in the curriculum to effectively teach both sets of cues.

There are 25 instruction hrs in a school week and the curriculum is expected to be taught in 80% of that time (20 hrs) allowing 20% for local priorities (5 hrs). In the Years F-2 where most phonic reading skills are expected to be learned you teach 10 hrs of English and the standard 5 hrs of Maths. Then you have the other weekly mandates: Physical Education / Sport 2 hrs, Science 1.5 hrs and Languages (expected is 90 min but reality is 1 hr). I haven’t yet added in Arts (1.5 hrs reality is 2 hrs in most schools which I suppose is the local priority????), Humanities (2 hrs) and Health 0.5 hrs. What is left is 1 hr a week in which we fit library skills, technology, weekly assemblies and I could add more. I won’t add in if there are additional needs: e.g. speech therapy or counselling.

Then of course there is the unaccounted for time – marking the attendance rolls, collecting student expenses and permission notes, changing home reading texts or books, dealing with playground disputes, correcting homework with students (lets not set so much) travelling time between classes etc….. . As a Principal I used to work hard on reducing these unaccounted for times but its an ongoing issue.

I know its an age old debate which has spurred other debates that include extending the school instructional day (9am – 5.00 pm some suggest). Principals and teachers are creative when it comes to juggling hrs in a school day – thank goodness.

So in summary if a teacher needs to take an extra hour a week teaching English and not so much Humanities or a little less Science lets not be so judgemental and leave them to their professional judgement.

I’ll jump off my hobby horse now.

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Can we see through the looking glass into an alternative world?

In Lewis Carroll’s book Alice is playing with her white kittens when she ponders what the world is like on the other side of a mirror’s reflection. Climbing up onto the fireplace mantel, she pokes at the wall-hung mirror behind the fireplace and discovers, to her surprise, that she is able to step through it to an alternative world.

Well I feel a little like Alice when speaking to teachers in training on placement during the current COVID restrictions where they are not allowed on site and have to prepare and teach lessons to students online. It’s like peeking into many alternative worlds depending upon the mentor teacher IT skills, the resources the school provide both before and during the restrictions, the learning environment of the adult and the student and the way the mentor teacher views their role as an online educator.

This post is not meant to be a critical analysis of the difference between classrooms or subject teachers or between the schools they work in or indeed criticism of teachers in general. I believe the great majority of teachers have the best intentions. It’s rather a reflection on what teachers in training and students are doing in this space of remote or online learning.

Let’s get the “battle” stories for want of a better term out first so that we can concentrate on ways we may seek to improve the current state. Yes I’ve heard of remote classrooms where there is no direct teaching via some portal (Google Meets, Webex or Zoom) just Power Points to follow. I’ve heard of the pandemonium in remote classrooms without online norms exisiting or being reinforced (e.g. muting or turning on the camera). I’ve heard of assignments being set with little or no teacher feedback or correction and teacher environments that have competing noises (try renovations next door) or like Alice, have kittens wandering through.

I’ve heard of 5-8 year olds having to log in several times a morning to join different “rooms” for group instruction and older students typing irrelevant stuff in the chat space and distracting others.

So what do I advise my teachers in training to do?

For those teachers in training in their last placements of their final year – persist and finish – valuing well being is important – and to reflect on what their blended environments classrooms in the future might look like. The schooling world in general should and again I believe is reflecting upon this. If some change do not occur we doom ourselves and our students to repeat the same lessons at least over the next 2 years of COVID

I have worked with some schools and teachers who, like Alice, started to see and play with alternative spaces prior to the COVID restrictions. Perhaps as Winston Churchill said “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.

For this post I’m going to concentrate on Reading F-8 examples. I’m going to assume that every teacher has a responsibility to teach reading skills, it’s just that some teachers do more explicitly and more often than others (usually classroom or english/humanities based teachers). The second assumption is that those teachers teaching reading frequently and explicitly use a variety of strategies (e.g. shared reading, modelled reading, guided reading, reciprocal reading, book club or socratic circles). Another assumption is that levelled texts will be used at some point as well as texts designed for reciprocal or book club strategies. I think there are other assumptions as well e.g. that word study (including phonics) mergers between reading and writing but I won’t go on except to say after reading this is my blog followers want some support on those matters just let me know.

Lastly this list of resources is not a complete endorsement of the pedagogy that may lie behind the programs – for that analysis (PLUS/DELTA) is another matter which I’m also happy to discuss.

So two years ago I worked as a curriculum coach at a school and we looked into some blended learning environments (face to face with multiple sets of texts and digital texts used on ipads and computers). Yes home reading still existed in the early years. However both in the classroom and at home digital texts (sometimes the same texts) were used as a teaching and learning tool. These texts had followup tasks , games and quizzes for students to complete to reinforce certain skills and often extend students particularly around comprehension strategies. They allowed teachers to set up the program and match texts to students whilst allowing some measure of free choice. Most of the programs enabled teachers to track progress as well. We tried many of the programs below keeping some and leaving others.

When remote learning started teachers continued to teach face to face with texts and students continued tasks, quizzes just this time at home. So I encourage you to have a browse from the links below – some are still offering 6 months free trials.

ABC Reading Eggs Learn to Read Program for Kids
LiteracyPlanet Logo

Sunshine Books Australia

Fountas and Pinnell
pearson english portal
Key Links Digital

So I don’t think we are yet in an alternative world like Alice experienced and perhaps this is just part of that transition process.

There are others publishers and no I don’t receive any commission for mentioning these sites. Happy hunting.

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Parents want more than jobs out of education for their children.

Image thanks to https://theconversation.com/a-year-of-resistance-how-youth-protests-shaped-the-discussion-on-climate-change-129036

The Australian Newspaper features an article by Chris Mitchell “Parents want education system to prep kids for jobs, not political activism”. In the article he makes a number of claims and offers solutions which I think need a response. Mitchell’s claims include:

  • Journalists are left of centre and rely on the leftist social media like Twitter to form views that most of us disagree with (citing ABC journalists visible disappointment on TV at Aust Prime Minister Morrison’s election as an example of leftist journalism) as we continue to vote right of centre politicans like Trump.
  • That leftist academics (citing two media personalities) support Islamic State actions like the tipping of statues
  • Social activists, like a former Victorian premier Joan Kirner, control the curriculum in schools with the result that young protestors have little nuanced understanding of historical figures (e.g. Churchill who also defeated Hilter’s Holocaust ambitions).
  • His solutions include: teachers being trained at colleges not universities where they rather learn theories of knowledge, teachers insisting on class discipline, academic class steaming and valuing winners.

Journalism is a form of writing that tells people about things that really happened, but that they might not have known about already.” It has a responsibility to explore the background and pose questions around what we see, read and hear. If that exploration and questioning provokes discussion and debate I would think that is a good thing. When journalists don’t fulfil these expectations we don’t get nuanced understandings of things like his second point of academics in the press supporting Islamic State actions. People on both sides of debates have tore down and defaced statues throughout history and I would add to our detriment as it doesn’t allow us to measure our progress or otherwise, for one thing.

Whenever I taught history, and that was for many years, I used differing thinking tools to explore e.g. famous people and to try and understand in those times circumstances around people’s actions and then apply these to ourselves so that we may discover our biases and prejudices.

However, his solutions seem either simplistic or a possible reliving of his past for some of them didn’t work or had a negative impact on learning (academic streaming) and are at best simplistic for discipline starts in the home and through parent teacher cooperation not in isolation at the school. Discipline it seems is what everyone wants as long as it doesn’t happen to my child or perhaps that’s my biases for as a principal of over 20 years I was constantly having to prepare like a lawyer for discipline meetings with parents.

As for valuing winners perhaps Chris needs to reflect a little more on valuing people and their successes and efforts rather than the suggested “winners and losers” idea.

Hold on! Chris you started a discussion that makes you a journalist.

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What does back at school look like?


As schools in Victoria resume face to face teaching over the next 2 weeks there might be a temptation for a period of testing to see where students are up to, what gaps may have occurred and know what to teach next. While some of this is entirely appropriate I would hasten slowly for a few reasons.

  • relationships – relationships – relationships. Dare I say it a fourth time. We do not know the effects of remote learning some of which may be positive and we may want to capture those. This is a time for both reflection and reunion.
  • Connected to the temptation to test or I would suggest over test is the upcoming student mid year reports. I believe parents will be relieved that students are back at school and that a new school normal has been established. Perhaps even a new normal student report?
  • I would suggest that we need to value the time of remote learning and record some of these achievements in 1/2 year reports. This can be done in simply ways like students learning to remotely connect – using passwords (seesaw, zoom, mathletics etc..), some sites like Mathletics or reading eggs have data on tasks completed and possible outcomes achieved – you may want to continue to use these sites in the classroom as well or for homework.
  • Finally there may be a need to test for what to teach next – accept that there may be “gaps” in student learning but these may be backfilled by tasks that move students forward. In relation to gaps just how important are these for example: are they connected to the big ideas in Maths or have future skills required. Is the content that critical? Just a question.

My wondering is more connected to the learning pits each child / student experienced and capturing and recording that data.

Remember the New Zealand schooling experience post earth quake where end of year student outcomes improved

I’d be interested to know what teachers think.

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Teaching has 4 Seasons

During this Covid 19 isolation period I have been catching up on my reading and I came across an article in the ASCD Education Update (Oct 2019) titled “Teaching Comes in Seasons”.

The author Chase Mielke talked about the careers of teachers coming in 4 seasons:

  • Season 1 Culture Shock: the first 3 years of a teachers career filled with idealism yet confronted with pragmatism and amateurism mixed with ambition.
  • Season 2 Development: now knowing administration trying to figure out not only what to teach but who you are as a teacher – 4th and 5th years
  • Season 3 Pathfinding: in your sixth+ year and trying to be great at everything and the realisation that you can’t therefore giving yourself permission to find the few things that you want to do well and thereby cultivating your passion.
  • Season 4 Pace yourself (now in your 10th + year) and now not being immune to burnout having mastered certain elements of teaching conserve energy without sacrificing quality.

Now I like the image of 4 seasons and love the four violin concertos by Vivaldi called the 4 seasons I’m not sure that his seasons matched my career. P.S. You might enjoy listening to Vivaldi as you read on:

  • Season 1 Culture Shock (as described by Chase) was similar to mine however in the 70’s and 80’s we were encouraged to apply for differing schools which I did (6 schools over 15 years). Every time you went to a different school it was another culture shock for at least 6 – 12 months.
  • Season 2 for me was was a combination of Chase’s Development and Pathfinding as I decided I needed more professional learning and went back to University. You see, as I discovered my passion, (teaching English well) I embarked on changing my teaching practice, which was a challenge for some colleagues, particularly as I was promoted during this 10 year period to a type of Master Teacher who in-serviced other teachers. Eventually I ended up in a resource centre (a place that held all the “best or most knowledgeable” teachers of English, Maths etc..)
  • Season 3 didn’t revolve around pacing myself it was the season of school leadership for I first became an Assistant Principal and then over the next 28 years a Principal in 3 different communities. It was a constant series of culture shocks – development and pathfinding – as I sought to find and redefine my leadership with others. Yes I went back to University again and again both here in Australia and overseas in Boston. I never quite got to pacing myself , well perhaps in my last 18 months, which then lead onto
  • Season 4 transitioning to other work as I retired from the teaching service and took up other leadership and teaching both in Universities (Deakin – teaching training, Harvard – coach accreditation in Data Wise for schools around the world) and in individual schools and networks. This was more my reflective period – listening to others, asking questions and making suggestions based on their data and culture.

My wondering on this analogue of careers over 4 seasons is that do we have more than 4 seasons and are they overlapping. Still it’s an interesting exercise to do. If you feel inclined I’d be interested in hearing about your “seasons”.

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Lilydale High School

During November I worked with the leadership team at Lilydale High School on collaboration.

Some of the resources we used:


Lilydale HS Meeting Rolling Agenda.docx


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