Use differing Genre in teaching Reading and Writing

This reminds me of the work of Debbie Miller “Reading for Meaning”
I love this bulletin board which can be used to stimulate both reading and writing.

I’ve posted these two images from the work of Cass a reading specialist after recent discussions about the growing effects of NAPLAN particularly on writing. It seems the genre we teach is narrowing to narrative (what sort of narrative I ask), persuasive and an occasional non fiction text.

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Effect Size: using Hattie’s work

In my ‘using data wisely’ work around Victoria I’m asked about calculating Hattie’s effect sizes. There are several good sites that show you how, here are some.

From Visible Learning

In the interests of perspective here I have included a colleagues of Hattie’s, Peter DeWitt’s column on effect size and several criticisms of Hattie’s work.

In short he suggests using effect size to calculate the effect of your current work before launching off into simply adopting some of his high leverage strategies.

I would add you also need to determine the level of fidelity (implementation level) there is to your current work as well. What everyone seeks, of course is high fidelity / high effect but if you get low effect be sure to check your implementation level first before taking something else on.

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How to determine zones of proximal development.

In my “using data wisely” work with Principals and teachers I’m sometimes sometimes how to look at a data set and calculate zones of proximal development. This clip featuring Patrick Griffin from Melbourne University I think answers that question.

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Student Reports: Are they worth the time and cost?

During May I visited a number of schools and invariably teachers spoke to me about starting their student reports which were due in 4-5 weeks time to parents. It seemed a long time in the prepare phase but then as a retired Principal I knew better.

Lots of questions come to mind when talking about student reports but the one I’m posing is:

Are they worth the cost in their current form?

A brief history for some perspective.

Teachers have produced student reports for over 150 years in Australia. Reports came in many guises, some with just marks expressed as letters (A,B,C,D) or percentages (95%), some with tick the box type comments others with extensive commentary. Reports formats and content varied depending on school type (independent or public schools), from school to school and from teacher to teacher within the same school.

In 2005 the Federal Government mandated a set format for student reports as part of a funding package to schools. There was some evidence that parents in general were dissatisfied with student reports. Some 14 years later are they any better?

A recent article in Teacher Magazine looked at teacher comments and their effects on parent understanding of student progress. While the authors concluded that teacher comments were valuable to parents they left the final opinion to an ACER report due out soon.

My question came after I recent rereading of ‘Meeting Wise‘ a Harvard Press publication. In ‘Meeting Wise’ the authors posed the question about the cost and value of meetings in schools.

Mine is a similar question but on student reports – what’s the cost and are we getting value?


Teachers can be fearful of making a “wrong” judgement in case its questioned by school administration or worse still parents:

One result is that teachers administer additional summative tests near the end of a semester.

The cost of these standardised tests can range from $1 to $9 per test depending upon the school purchasing arrangements and computer network facility (pen/paper costs more than computer generated test). Some State Governments provide free online assessments. Then there’s the teacher time to mark and grade the tests.

So let’s be conservative and say 2 tests per student at $4 a test total $8, teacher grading time at 10 minutes per test times is $18. The summary pre report cost so far is $26 per student report.

Now the teacher time to compile all the data from tests, graded student work samples and notes on learning conversations, time to aggregate and record judgement against curriculum outcomes, and then write comments on performance. For a primary school teacher they generally spent 90 minutes per report which costs about $72.

In lots of primary and secondary schools the principal class officers review and edit student reports for appropriate teacher style and consistency. This on average is about 15 minutes per report which costs about $25 per report.

So the total cost per report about $123. This might not seem unreasonable if we could measure their value in the school and home contexts .

It’s here the waters get muddy.

Before moving away from cost from an industry perspective, schools with 600+ ,as was my last school, the cost per year for student reports would often exceed $145,000. This is a significant sum and similar amounts in school budgets are usually required to be substantiated, evaluated and reported on to school boards.

Teacher Unions for years have been pushing for additional administration time for teachers to amongst other things produce these reports. For a primary teacher with 22.5 hrs contact hours plus non negotiable duties like yard supervision it meant finding an additional 12.5 hrs per week for 4 weeks. As a retired Principal I know we tried to provide some time by having meeting free weeks and provided additional some administrative release time however it was still insufficient. Consequently teachers took the work home to do at night and on weekends.

This is not news for teachers.

Please note that I have not added the additional cost associated with preparing for and attending parent teacher interviews which often follow student reports.

Yet the parent report card on the usefulness of student reports is still out.

If you argue that parents and teachers form a partnership in the education of their children what actions might a parent expect of themselves as a result of reading their child’s report? You might conjecture that the information provided in student reports enables the parent to feel better connected to the school and teacher and that connectedness is an enabler for improved student learning. If so, we could measure that through parent surveys and focus groups. Is this the value we are seeking?

I’m going to suggest there might be an invisible cost to all this time and money going on the current format of student reports, that of student learning.

When teachers are spending all their time over the ‘reporting season’ producing these reports what is happening to their normal duties that include:

  • attending team meetings to plan a differentiated curriculum
  • teacher time to prepare lessons that engage and motivate student to learn, inclusive of stated learning intentions and success criteria
  • time to restore one’s energy so that teachers can calmly support un settled students or resolve behavioural disputes.

My intent is not to castigate teachers but simple to say that something has to give and it’s often the latter generally invisible costs to parents.

What if teachers said out aloud:

  • I want to inform you of progress and next steps but gradings with all their unintended consequences can so often get in the way of that conversation.
  • I want to inform you of progress and next steps but writing lengthy slabs of text about 6 months of learning costs me time away form teaching.
  • I want to inform you of progress and achievement but I want to assess to know what the next steps of learning for your child are, not as summative confirmation to justify a grade.
  • I want to inform you of progress but not be judged as a person or an failed educator when I let you know your child hits a few road bumps in the journey of learning
  • I want to inform you of progress on the few key improvement goals we set, not on all the activities involved in learning.

Then perhaps we can have a sensible dialogue, one that doesn’t take away time from the valuable teaching and caring, one that then provides the basis for a short summary of our conversation and not this standardised grade based and I would add consumer orientated view of schooling.

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Yarra – Darebin Network of Schools

Hi everyone,

This post has the requested resources from our day together and some snapshots to remember the highlights:

De-identified Primary School Data Inventory 2016 – 2018

DW Minutes sample

The Five WHY’s protocol.

Compass Points (survey monkey)

























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Maribyrnong Network of School Leaders

Hosts of our Network Day

Maribyrnong College with its sports academy

This post is to follow-up our network day on the first 2 steps of Data Wise.

We spoke about answering the WHY question when change is being advocated – as we are about to advocate for change in collaboration in schools and the use of data in a more formative sense to shape our curriculum and instruction. Simon Sinek spoke about the WHY and school leaders indicated a need to view and use his work, hence the clip below:

The second request from the network was to see a Victorian school data inventory and initiative inventory. This is a work in progress so please return to this site in about a week for that artefact.




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Inferencing in the early years

This week I’m writing about inferencing.

It’s nearly 5 months into the Australian academic year for our Foundation to Year 2 students and teachers have built Reading Workshops where students build sufficient reading stamina for guided groups to run, where learning intentions are clear and understandable, where schema particularly text to self, text to text connections have been a focus, where predictive skills have been a focus alongside rhyme, letter identification and phonics (initial consonant sounds). So in summary the team has covered a great deal in Reading and now alongside consolidation of current work and continued work now in phonics (complete the 44 sounds, blending and segmenting) it was time to consider what other comprehension skills the data suggested our students needed and inferencing was next.

Narrative stories are the focus of our genre studies and inferring characters’ intentions and feelings seems a natural progression. Fountas and Pinnell in the Year 1 and 2 (p 133) suggest talking about pictures to show an interpretation of a problem can be effective before we talk about characters’ feelings. As students’ progress, they start to discuss evidence to support their inference. Eventually students might be able to infer and talk about characters’ feelings, motives and attribute and the causes for these, perhaps even cause and effect.

I observed a teacher in training recently use this photo to promote student inferencing talk. She scaffolds the students with some sentences starters and got the following:

I can infer that it’s a hot day because the photo shows ice cream has melted.

Other possible photos to use might include:






During these sessions we might build some anchor charts about inferencing.

I was referred to a blog post that explains the difference between prediction and inferencing, which I believe confuses many children.






















We may then be ready to use these skills as we model inferencing on picture fiction texts. Two good texts are – but I’m sure my readers can find many others (including fables for years 2-6 which are perfect for inferring the morale of stories).












If you can add anything to the post please do so.

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Lesson Transitions

Image result for deakin school of education

About 9 months ago I started working as a casual academic for Deakin University, Faculty of Education, in Victoria. Students are placed in schools for at least 80 days, depending upon their course. They work along students and experienced teachers and my role is one of professional support to both student and teacher.

It’s within this role that I began to appreciate that my role is often like a bridge where I connect the University’s course based on answering the why questions of education with the practical how questions in teaching. Of course this is a simple dichotomy that masks the many aspects of learning at university but useful I feel in this context.

So why this post?

Well in the past 9 months similar questions are being raised by “teachers in training” and I thought some useful bridge type links might be useful.

The links connect David Sousa work on connecting brain research with teaching.

In planning lessons or episodes, as some call them, teachers in training often don’t recognise that it’s when students move from one phase of the lesson to the next (transitions) that learning is affected.

I’ve focused on transitions before primary (mini-lessons) and recency (summaries or reflections) blocks  as transitions when not intentionally planned might lead to:

I’ve seen whole groups of students move at once (pictured above) and others in managed groups. I’ve seen some transitions between the mini lesson and the practice task take 15 minutes (is it any wonder why some students forget the instructions) and others take 1 minute.

There is no one way for students to transition – there are many and the reasons vary. But some general tips might be useful.


Please remember effect transitions are ones that are also practiced, in some cases daily in term 1 as we build effective learning communities in classrooms.

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Painting a new school’s curriculum and pedagogy.

As an educator, and now consultant, it’s hard not to get excited when you are asked to support a newish school develop its curriculum and pedagogy.

 In many ways, it’s like a starting a painting with a blank canvas, or is it?

I was asked by the Principal to support a new independent school, 18 months into its journey, after what has been described by those present as a very rocky start. The staff was “turned over” after the first 12 months with the existing teachers, all graduates, employed in the last 8-12 months. The contracted educational consultant/s to support the teachers have similarly come and gone and the pressure on a new Principal to prove to the community a vibrant and successful school growing.

At this point my painting was rather messy:

What might you do?

For me, flying over to Vietnam on our preplanned holiday, provided the perfect opportunity for some reflection and how I might tackle this opportunity. It didn’t hurt that this reflection occurred whilst soaking up the sun by the pool. I was eager of course to just dive in and not just the pool. Having the time to ponder, now that I’m writing about it, seemed critical. I recall closing my eyes, through my sunglasses, trying to picture the faces of “experts” or key words that I had heard that had meant sense to me. I wrote down some thoughts at odd times (and I do mean odd) during the holiday on serviettes, on menus, on brochures of tours we did.  Just before I started at the school I used the world’s favourite research tool
to connect the phrases from the menus and brochures and BINGO Michael Fullan’s work appeared.

 It wasn’t a total surprise that I remembered some of his messages as I took my leadership team to a 2-day workshop with him and still had some of his notes in my library.

The “Fullan sense” was about conditions you build at times of change. In my own words

1.      Love your employees is about focusing on the students, teachers, principal and volunteers in the organization which is what I did by consulting with the teachers on their strengths as the first focus for collective improvement, “Reading”.

I recall some surprise being expressed at the time that we weren’t focusing on what needs to be done (implied our gaps). I suppose teachers seem apprehensive about improvement work when its continuously based, usually by outsiders or experts (read consultants here I suppose), on judgements of weaknesses.   

2.     Connect Peers with Purpose is about building a team approach. We met as a team to use a common English planning proforma. The proforma, initially developed my myself as the consultant, contained key strategies teachers had discussed (learning intentions), was accomplishable as we only planned 8/10 lessons in a fortnight. We built a sense of camaraderie by sharing the work, having a sense of continuous learning in classrooms as I committed to modelling some lessons or releasing teachers to share a strategy in another’s room. (planning)

3.     Capacity building prevails for us initially centered around learning to use a common assessment tool (in Reading) and then plan instructional practices to achieve improved student learning outcomes. We chose what the school had already purchased the Fountas and Pinnell  Benchmarking tool. I started the assessments of students in classroom, where possible, and then under the gradual release model had the teachers complete the assessments.

Now we are at the end of term 3 having committed to further team planning next term for Reading using the data and some common instructional strategies: guided reading and reciprocal teaching and there is a real sense of shared purpose about our work.

Of course, we have started building the other 3 conditions and there’s learning to share from our planning and use of assessments but that’s another post or two. AND I wonder what the paintings may turn out to be.

How might other consultants start and what change planning would they have used? That’s a question I’d really like some feedback on?


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Why have learning intentions without success criteria?

John, in this 9 min clip, puts the case for why we need to explain what we intend students to learn, why and how they might self assess success. It’s hard to defend the opposite.

In this clip John’s work on effect sizes are explained about teacher clarity (intentions and success criteria)

This clip details how you might go about creating intentions and success criteria.

Further Resources

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Is Dante’s Hell a view of adaptive challenges? If so, hold onto that moral compass.

I recently watched a TED talk by Dan Leahy – The Dance of Learning Meets the Adaptive Challenge.

In the talk Dan uses HeifetzGlashow and Linsky’s need for adaptive change which is about facing the unknown and having to learn new skills to solve, as yet, unanswered questions. He liken’s these inquiries to Dante’s Inferno (pictured below) for it will take courageous curiosity, leaders like Virgil (who helped Dante enter these gates of hell), a little balcony viewing, compassion for our human side and our capacity for error, and generative conversations to see the journey through. Its quite a vivid image – one that might put inquiries off.

When Dante entered the gates of hell he had to survive nine concentric circles of torment. The last circle was treachery or betrayal which unfortunately might be apt for leaders of adaptive change. The constant courageous yet compassionate challenging of often unsubstantiated opinion or deafening silence that define the fight or flight walls built by many mean leaders cannot always see those who conspire against the question or inquiry. So perhaps Dan’s vivid image wasn’t so far off – I wonder?

So as leaders of these adaptive challenges we need to a strong moral purpose to stay the course (a little of Virgil helps). In Dan’s case it was his grandson, who if he posed the question why didn’t you try Dan to change …. that for me he might answer … I tried and these were some of the effects.

To my colleagues in practice who have just completed the Data Wise course at Harvard I have loved your tweets and wish you all hope in your journeys as you take that adaptive change to your communities. To my colleagues here in Australia as you wind up term 2 (and the reporting season) recharge your batteries for the journey is not yet complete.

So what’s your moral purpose?

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Effective Lesson Planning: classroom systems and lesson sequencing

This is a follow up post number 2 on effective lesson planning. Now that we understand lessons should go differing lengths of time 20 – 40 minutes, what would that look like in one of the timetable blocks of 90-120 minutes.

If we were to focus on one discipline e.g. English within a primary classroom, this is generally taught in the morning blocks in this case either 120 min (block 1) or 90 minutes (block 2).

Hold on I’m presuming that trainee teachers have recognized the many classroom learning environment systems and their expectations and consequences that teachers establish in the first 20 days or so of the school year.

First, it’s important that class teachers have systems in place to start the day. Each teacher organizes this in this own way but what’s important is that it’s done efficiently (within the first 5 minutes at the start of a session – tops). Some teachers have tubs out for students to place their lunch orders, money collection (e.g. for excursions), return their home reading book and note their attendance (some as they enter the classroom).

Resources for classroom systems

What I have seen unfortunately is the teacher take 15 minutes or more to call the roll – some chanting or singing rhymes. This is very valuable instruction time and to take 15 minutes or so seems a waste of prime time. Sousa would say that student remember who is present in classroom more than your first learning intention. Anyway, teachers at the end of the session can complete marking the roll (if required manually), entering money into a cash book etc… I know there are special days where rolls have to be taken to the office but surely, we have technology solutions here.

Some teachers have the daily organization written on the whiteboard and have trained students again in the first 20 days of school what’s expected when they see a subject or task on the whiteboard. It’s really important that these routines are practiced early in the school year. It might be they see reading, spelling and writing lessons (their length e.g. 20 minutes or so) and what’s expected to be on the student’s table ready when the instruction period is finished.

I once heard a Math’s educator talk about bird’s eye view of what the table should look like (see drawing below) and had student set their tables up at the start of the lesson or the end of the previous lesson (just before recess). I have used this and thought the mental image a perfect way to communicate to visually dominated young people.

Anyway, allowing for 5 minutes means students are now settled onto the group instructional area with their tables set up. This table set up will really aid transition time during lessons and teachers repeating instructions (a question often raised by trainee teachers).

Additional Resources to support transitions:

Of course, there are many more systems in classrooms including: going to the toilet, eating fruit during lessons, classroom monitors who usually take down chairs from tables or switch on computers etc… but the point I’m making is that trainee teachers need to reflect on these for efficiency and what they might replicate or strengthen.

Anyway, to the main point of the post sequencing lessons of differing lengths in the morning period in English.

Here one has to consider that there may be parent helpers in classrooms in the morning and what might they do whilst lessons proceed. Often parents like to help out with hearing students read in which case you might start the day with Reading which may last for 40 minutes. Again, I’ve assumed the parents have completed some school training program that explains school processes and learning organization – if not then its left to the individual teacher to do this in the first 20 days or so of the school year. So, the rostered parents (another system) come in and might for the first 10 – 15 minutes return all the home reading books to the correct tubs, organized the student home reading folders ready to hear student read (a few pages) during the first down time period (where the students are completing a task to reinforce or practice a learning intention). There lots to say about parent helpers here but I’ll leave that to another post. If there are no parent helpers then the teacher has a greater choice in lesson sequencing.

So, the lesson might proceed for the 30-40 minutes (I’ll speak about the lesson in a 3rd post) followed by some transition period usually 3 or so minutes where students might stretch, music is played, a chant is recited etc… and the student then set up for the following lesson (it’s an advantage here to have a system or birds eye view of the table set up so students are then ready for the next lesson). I usually prefer a shorter 20-minute lesson which could be on spelling or vocabulary development followed by another transition. Finally, you might then have a writing lesson for the last 30-40 minutes of the block. In this sequence (Reading, Spelling, Writing) you have covered 3 basic components of the English curriculum in a 90 or 120-minute period you have had 2 transitions (6 minutes) and you have prepared for the next lesson before recess or lunch.

There are several tips here to support the sequencing:

  • have a class novel or book to read (great if the students are eating before recess or lunch break)
  • have sent of spelling or vocabulary flash cards (many different games you can play here which counts for a repetition of a previous lesson)

I hope that helps paint a picture of sequencing lessons and transitions in-between. If there are any questions or even issues please respond. The next post is on a specific lesson structure keeping in mind student retention.


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Effective Lesson Planning: length of lessons

Some of the questions, concerns and issues raised by trainee teachers so far include:

  • constantly repeating instructions to students
  • students forget what to do
  • students either don’t finish the tasks in the time set or finish in the first 5 minutes with nothing else to do

What these questions raise for me is an understanding of why we plan lessons in the way we do. So I thought some shared understandings about lesson planning here would be useful.

The length of lessons can vary greatly from 20 minutes to 90 minutes.

Most teachers try to fit their lessons into a school timetable that is constructed for many different reasons e.g. when specialist subject lessons occur, compliance with industrial agreements on teacher breaks or administrative time and when support programs like reading recovery occur.  Timetables are not necessarily about when or how its best for students to learn.

The school instructional day is 300 minutes long in Victoria, something like 9.00 am- 11.00 am (then a 30 minute recess) 11.30 am – 1.00 pm (then a 60 minute lunch) and 2.00 pm till 3.30 pm.

So my first bit of advice for trainee teachers is yes you have to comply with a school timetable but don’t let that completely dominate the length of lessons you facilitate. Just because you have 120 minutes (first period) or 90 minutes (second or third periods) does not mean lessons have to be that whole period or even half that period (60 or 45 minute lessons). There are in fact well researched reasons why you vary the length of lessons from 20 to 45 minutes and perhaps even break lessons into smaller blocks .

There are a few key understandings I suggest trainee teachers take note of

  • David Sousa’s research on the brain and student retention, and
  • Ebbinghaus forgetting curve are two

David Sousa’s has written over 20 books on this topic of how the brain learns. One of his points for teachers is about student retention during lessons.

I have presented his work on primacy and recency retention in a typical 40 minute lesson as most lessons presented to students tend to be around this sort of length of time. The diagram illustrates there are two prime times for the retention of new information in a 40 minute lesson: prime time 1 where students remember new information and prime time 2 where near the end of the lesson we revise the key points for a recency effect.

If we were to make the lesson a 20 minute lesson lets look at the student retention blocks (prime times 1 and 2) and you can see the reduced amount of down time. That’s surely a positive.

Now if we combine two twenty-minute lessons together lets look at the effect.

As we can clearly see the amount of prime time 1 where new information is retained with prime time 2 for recency effects they are double that of a 40 minute lesson.

Now if you add Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve into the argument for some short lessons that enable some repetition of new content over 2 or 3 days then the percentage of new information being retained by students is potentially increased.


So how does this answer some of the questions being posed above:

  • If you have shorter lessons then the chance that student forget your instruction (in downtime) is reduced.
  • If you give your instructions before students hit the downtime then there is a greater chance they will be remembered and thus cut constant teacher instructional repetitions.

There are other points to make here about how to structure a lesson be it 20 or 40 minutes and what learning tasks support retention but that will be the subject of my next post.

I hope that’s useful information and as always I welcome feedback.

Some useful links for further information are provided below:

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Working at Deakin University

One of the exciting opportunities that has presented itself this year is to work at Deakin University as a casual academic. What that means is that I work in the professional learning unit supporting trainee teachers in schools learn the skills, strategies, mindset and sense of professionalism required to become an effective graduate teacher.

I’ve been assigned a range of schools across all sectors (State, Independent, Catholic) and students who attended these schools are supported by myself.

I visit them in the school and discuss their curriculum planning and relationships with the teaching staff, parents and young people. I sometimes observe specific lessons to give feedback, act as a resource for both school and system related information and offer advice and support as they transition to employment.

It’s also a great opportunity to reflect on what trainee teachers bring to the profession and some common needs shared by them. It’s this last point that I feel will be a springboard for future posts.

I’d be interested in hearing either some comments on what other people feel our trainee teachers need as they enter the profession or what other universities do to support their students as they enter their professions.

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Dirty Data!

Well I’m now officially retired as a school principal – no really! I’m sleeping well, planning holidays and of course playing more golf. But what about my mind – it’s not ready to give up as an educator.

So I’m now consulting with schools, employed by a university to mentor trainee teachers and training to become a school reviewer.

It’s in the consulting role and supporting school communities to use evidence (data) to adjust instruction that I came across this comedy clip on dirty data. It sums up some early fears about personal and school reputations when we look at data in open ways.

Have a laugh

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