Why Why is the question we all need to answer!

In my work with school educators this is the question I ask them to resolve for themselves. What drives you to lead / teach young people and why? What happened to you and why is that important.

I was reminded of the power of that question recently in two quite different ways, which I’ll explain as we go on.

Firstly, its important to share my why, which changes as my life continues. It was for many of my years to treat young people as people – with respect – with hope and humility – not to punish as was done to me by some of my schooling and first years as a teacher – to strap, to hurt , to punish a behaviour. Does that go away – no – but it fades a little as my first grandson, James is soon to turn 2.

While I can I want to bring hope to schools and educators through an equity improvement process called Data Wise from Harvard University – hope for a life filled with possibilities and opportunities for all young people including my grandson.

Experience 1: I was in a school recently visiting a trainee teacher who talked about wanting to design a few lesson around students misunderstandings about part number or fractions that she had found. Firstly it was unusual to hear that language (misunderstandings) and mathematical knowledge in a young trainee teacher and I wanted to know her background as I suspected a deeper why in her. Well, its not my story to tell but there was a deeper connection to hope from her past – maybe with her permission she may choose to share that sometime to a wider audience.

Experience 2: I came across a new film “Radical” to be released later this year about a teacher who saw hope in young people. The film is in Spanish with English subtitles but from the short clip below I feel one worth watching

So, in summary what’s your why t0 care to share?

Posted in coaching, Data Wise Program, Deakin Teachers in training, Harvard, Mathematics, teacher efficacy, Teaching | Leave a comment

The push to teach discipline!

A recent report also found the “disciplinary climate” in schools in Australia was among the least favourable in the OECD according to student reports. This is based on a 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) index, which asked students how often noise and disorder occur in the classroom. Australian classrooms scored -0.2 while the OECD average is 0.04.

In separate studies, researchers have found new teachers find it particularly hard to manage disruptive student behaviour. However, there is currently little data showing how often disruptive behaviour occurs in Australian classrooms, what these behaviours look like, and how teachers currently work to prevent and respond to these behaviours. It is possible that behaviour issues are happening more in some areas or in some schools, rather than across the board.

The report suggests 3 reasons why!

  • Students find the work too difficult (reading skills and disruptive behaviours linked)
  • Peer approval (needing to be seen as cool with peers)
  • Students are copying their parents (parent increased hostility and aggression towards school leaders)

The report also lists some suggestions, which include:

  • Reducing environmental distractions (e.g. felt pads under tables and chairs)
  • Teaching behavioural skills (e.g. entering the classroom quietly and beginning a task)
  • Allowing lots of time for practice
  • Getting students to be part of building the classroom culture.

As a retired Principal and now educator working with two different Universities to support trainee teachers and school leadership teams I might suggest I have some first hand experiences and observations here.

On a recent online chat with retired Principals I made the following comment:

Trainee teachers don’t spend enough time in classrooms (and teaching). I’m constantly saying to trainees stop talking too much (10 min explicit teaching should be enough) then get the students to work – hopefully the task is challenging – have a visual timer for students – encourage questions – walk around the classroom supporting individuals and small groups. Behaviours multiply when they have to listen too much – send students off in groups not all at once – focus on one rule or norm at a time till it’s followed by 90+% of students.

The less than 5% of really disruptive students need intensive work – sometimes outside the classroom – by school leadership and others – I and my AP’s supervised these students for 15 min of recess and 30 min at lunch as they completed their work day in and day out till someone got the message – I gave parents the message as well – No one likes missing out on time with their friends but that’s a privilege for those who try and learn.

We also graphed the amount of time students could concentrate on work – visible signs of improvement – and rewarded that.

I could go on but a few comments on the article itself

  • There are usually less than 5% of students who are continuously disruptive in each school but some schools engage parents more effectively to support the interventions – caviet no parent likes to be called about their child’s behaviour.
  • It appears to happen more frequently in some schools more than others. Those teachers and schools that value time spent building caring relationships between people tend to do better than others.
  • Cool can be acknowledged in lots of ways by adults and peers – e.g. supporting one another.
  • Reading capacity has a huge impact on not appearing dumb in front of peers – teachers using multiple visual strategies – lots of I.T. here – bring more students into the learning.

Appreciate your comments.


Posted in Collaborative Communities, Deakin Teachers in training, Instruction, Leadership, politics, Reading, Teaching, trainee teachers | Leave a comment

Harvard Data Wise Institute in Melbourne

Data Wise 2022 Banner.png

Last week 19 school teams came to Melbourne during the last week of school holidays to attend a 5 day Harvard Data Wise Institute. There were long 8 hours days of intensive learning where participants shared their ‘why’ stories with each other and learnt to focus on equity in schools through the 8 steps of Data Wise.

As teaching fellows we supported teachers and school teams throughout the institute. One such support was to act as a process observer whilst teams learned not only the improvement process but to work or live in certain ways e.g. one way was to follow a set of agreed norms. One norm was to hear all voices.

So during a 60-75 minute meeting period I rotated around 3 school groups and observed the team ‘living’ that norm. I observed for close to 15 minutes and then shared their data towards the end of the time.

The team discussed the data and posed the following question: did we follow the norm?

As a process observer I also collected the types of contributions participants made and the team described the possible implications: we are trying to solve “cultural” or adaptive challenges and the wonderings and questions could indicate we are focused on “inquiring” and were curious about others thoughts (clarifying questions).

Had I as the process observer had a little more time I might have actually captured their actual questions or thoughts. Maybe next time.

They might consider getting another process observation done in about 6 weeks on the same norm to enable some comparisons. This is but one coaching strategy (feedback) we used throughout the week to support teams.

Interested? If so, send me a comment and I can connect you.

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Jez – the old chestnut – ability grouping or streaming – is still being touted as a solution to falling standards!

Sorry Natasha, education editor for the Australian Newspaper, wrote a recent article on the state of education in Australia using the results of the recent PISA tests to say that our students are bored out of their brains at school, your wrong.

Yes, there is some correlation between student use of smartphones etc… and falling standards and schools have responded by banning them from the classroom – that only leaves another 10 hrs in the day assuming teenagers sleep 8 hrs a day? Hmmmmm – perhaps another past on that point alone.

“If you’re teaching kids when they’re not ready to learn – or maybe what they already know – you’re going to have students bored or misbehaving,” he says. “Some of the things we think of as problems are actually symptoms of the problem.”

Teaching that is better tailored to the needs of each child is credited for the raging academic success of Asian schools. Singapore “streams” students into groups based on ability.

“They recognise that kids are at different points in their learning and meet them where they are – rather than doing what we do, which is to expect every kid to be at the same point in their learning at the same time,” Masters says.

I will not labour the point about streaming only being effective for the “top” group – read Catia Malaquias post for a good summary of that argument. The one point I will agree is setting high standards for all students and then mapping out how each one might reach those points.

I would add that a key partnership in achieving this is with parents – after all our job as teachers is to help parents educate their children. I don’t have all the data to support my theory here but I’d suggest that those parents reading to their children on a constant basis until at least the age of 10 are well ahead of those who do not.

As a grandparent one of the birthday or Christmas gifts is always a book/s to my grandson, James. Surrounding young children with rich texts is a critical element in improving reading performance.

It’s perhaps easy to say “read to your children” and be seen reading in harder economic times when parents are working two jobs or more to pay the mortgage and living expenses but the risks in not doing so are great.

For those teachers seeking an understanding of knowing where each child is at and then measuring their progress I again refer to my work with the Data Wise Project as one possible solution. We start our 2024 program in 14 days.

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Writers Workshop Toolkit

Every month I receive en email with this months “tips” on how to I think strategise a little more in your writers workshop. The tips are divided by grade levels (e.g. K-1) – Yes, it’s an American resource – one I think is applicable to many classrooms around the world.

It’s an excellent resource for teachers in training, those in the first few years in the classroom and those just looking for that supplementary idea. This months tip that I aligned with was the idea of writing stamina.

It’s free! Enjoy!

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Another article tells the same story – postcodes predict education performance.

Reading an article in the Australian newspaper this morning (School system fails ‘fairness’ test, as PISA results show learning gap) which show lower academic performance in areas of socio economic disadvantage, rurality and indigenous communities.

Here are some quotes:

It found the literacy and numeracy gap between teenagers from rich and poor families is growing wider.

“In mathematics, low achievers became weaker; high achievers became stronger,’’ the PISA report states.

It found immigrant students in Australia outperformed Australian-born students by a year in maths, and by nine months in reading – even though most spoke English as a second language.

The article also discusses why this affects all sectors public, Catholic and Private schools:

In reading, private schools produced 17 per cent of the top performers – compared to 11 per cent in government schools and 10 per cent in Catholic schools. But private schools are to blame for the biggest drop in long-term results. Literacy achievement in government schools has remained stable, but has fallen 28 points in Catholic schools and 27 points in independent schools – the equivalent of at least a year of learning.

We, at Harvard, are in many ways renaming our Data Wise Improvement Processes to Data Wise Equity in Education. As we head to our Australian Institute later this month in Melbourne, the need for this work has never been more important .

Unlike many professional learning programs school teams who complete our 5 day institute then have a coach assigned to them for a further 8-9 months as they implement a cycle back in their own schools. Some schools find the process so empowering and impactful they pay for a further 12 months of coaching or send a second or third team to an Institute so that the work is fully embedded across their school.

How do I know? I’m a certified Harvard Data Wise coach and work as a teaching fellow at the Institute in Melbourne. In 2023 I coached 5 school teams after the institute from differing settings (primary, secondary and special education) and the feedback and results have been nothing short of inspiring.

So, if your attending this years Institute I welcome you to our family where equity and excellence go hand in hand. For more information please don’t hesitate to contact me (mark@learninginquiries.com.au) or contact Harvard direct.

Posted in Assessment, Data Wise Program, Harvard, school, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What I consider a balanced article to the issues around learning to read and reading to learn.

Why we’re failing to build the knowledge students need

Age Newspaper 15/12/2023.

In the early years of school, teaching should focus on systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, exposure to rich literature through read-alouds, and explicit teaching to build vocabulary, fluency, and background knowledge.

Hardly a controversial comment and from my experience most primary school teachers do this.

As students master the ability to decode new words, they can switch from learning to read to reading to learn. But they still need explicit teaching that deepens their knowledge and vocabulary, so they can comprehend what they read – the ultimate goal of reading.

Again accepted by most teachers I know.

The best way to prepare young people for the reading challenges they will face in the real world is to teach them using knowledge-rich and well-sequenced curriculum materials, from Prep to Year 12. But Australia still largely leaves this to chance.

The Australian Curriculum is surprisingly vague about the specific content teachers must cover (and) is left for the teacher to decide. As a result, we end up with a lesson lottery: some teachers and students cover a lot while others do not.

Here the argument starts to weaken a little with this idea of a lesson lottery. Most schools I visit, and I do visit lots through my work at two different universities, have curriculums developed by teachers that match the needs of their students and allow some depth of inquiry on topics that range from chemical science to environmental sustainability. The call for knowledge to be separated by individual year levels (in fact 13 year levels) goes against genuine topics of inquiry and is what I fought so hard against – I recall teachers saying I cannot teach that despite student interest because its on the year …. curriculum – really.

What we need is a responsive curriculum that maps the skills, understandings and knowledge that students learn (backward mapping if you like) through a process of inquiry and the teaching or curriculum space over consecutive years to ensure all areas of the curriculum are covered.

Posted in Deakin Teachers in training, Deakin University, Harvard, Instruction, Reading, school, Teaching, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jason Day tells how he made it to number 1 in the world and more …….

I have listened to this clip several times now as he describes during his childhood experiences he found a passion for golf and family. It’s worth a listen for anyone either interested in golf or wanting to get better at something. Please share..

Posted in coaching, Leadership, professional learning, reflections, sports, Video Clips | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Deakin Teachers in training, Deakin University, Feedback, Instruction, professional learning, school, Teaching, trainee teachers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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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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?

Posted in Instruction, Reading, reflections, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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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