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Improving teacher education

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National President of the Australian College of Educators and Chair of Teacher Education and Director of Learning and Teaching at the University of Melbourne, Stephen Dinham, speaks exclusively with Education Matters magazine about the Federal Government’s Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers.

How important is it for the Federal Government to focus on improving teacher graduates?  Is it the right direction for improving student outcomes?

You’ve got to start with teacher education.  Teacher education, both pre-service and in services, is one of the biggest leavers we’ve got to improve teaching and learning.  So, we have to get teacher education right.  International measures of student achievement for Australia has shown some steady declines over recent years.  But also the equity gap is becoming wider as well.  It’s most important for a whole range of reasons, including the individual students and society as a whole, that we get teacher education right, so that every young person has got the opportunity to have a quality education.

The Government has highlighted in its report that the accreditation of Teacher Education Courses should be improved. How can they be improved?

We have nationally consistent standards for that, but in my view, and I’ve been involved in accrediting courses for a long period of time, the standard is too low, it’s a very low bar, and we need to do more.  The report emphasises this, we need to do more to ensure that these courses are of the right quality.  That they are informed by evidence.  That the right people are teaching them.  That the in school experience is appropriate.  That at the end of the day, these courses can demonstrate that they are having a positive impact on teaching and learning.

The report also recommended that all Graduate teachers should be teachers of literacy. How do you feel about that aspect?

Every subject involves literacy.  So for every teacher, every day is using literacy and therefore every teacher obviously needs to have a high standard of literacy themselves, and to be able to move literacy forward in their students in their respective subjects that they teach.

What we really need in the teaching of literacy, is a lot of support for teachers.  Particularly support that is strongly evidence-based.  Literacy is an area where there’s been a lot of conjecture about different approaches and strategies and so on.  We need to sort that out, and we need to give all teachers really good support in literacy.

Literacy’s fundamental.  It’s the currency of learning.  What we find with many kids, is when they get to the early years of high school, their learning really stalls, and in some cases goes backwards.  One of the key factors there is the fact that they haven’t got the literacy tools that they need to take them any further because the literacy demands on them in high school just become too great.

So literacy is every teachers business and we need really good across the board evidence-based approaches to literacy.

Would the test proposed to ensure education students are in the top 30% in literacy and numeracy be key to things moving forward in this area?

We need bright teachers.  That doesn’t guarantee they’re going to be a good teacher, but it’s a very good place to start.  We’ve let our entry standard, in some cases, go down too low, although it’s quite variable.  If you look at countries like Germany, I’ve just come back from three months working in Germany, they have a strong state-wide system of examinations for people going into teaching, at the start of their course.

At the moment, this proposal is for the end of the course.  I don’t agree with that.  I’d like to see something up front.  Of a fairly high standard.  Those people who pass, fine.  Those people who may be get within an acceptable distance from a pass, whatever a pass is determined to be, they could bridge that gap during the course.  But I do think we’ve got to be very, very serious about the standard of the people going into teaching courses.

Unfortunately the whole thing has been deregulated.  Undergraduate places and government-funded places have been uncapped.  So universities have been greatly increasing the number of teachers in their training.  There’s been new entrances to teacher education from some of the private colleges and so forth. We need proper workforce planning and this is where the report, I think, needs to go further.

That includes, for example, not just saying to any university, ‘you can train as many teachers as you like’, but to actually allocate places.  Because we’ve got a situation at the moment where we have an oversupply of primary teachers, yet significant shortages in Maths and Science, Languages teachers, in particularly in secondary schools.  So we need to be targeting our resources to where those area of shortages are.

On the other hand, I think it’s somewhat reprehensible to allow people to train for an occupation when they’re not going to get to practice it.  Certainly a lot of principals tell me they’re noticing a widening gap in the quality of people from some of these different providers, including some of the new ones.  They will only hire, in some cases, if they’ve got a choice, from certain universities.

So, we’ve really got to address the issue of the quality of who’s going into education.  I think the report was right, not to focus on ATARs.  Because there’s problems with ATARs.  For example, a third of people who go into teaching go in with an ATAR.  As well as that, many people who are going into teaching are doing a career change.  Average age, in many cases, 27, 28.  The ATAR they got nine or 10 years ago, is probably not relevant.

But the other problem with ATARs too is, the published ATARs often don’t bear scrutiny, because there are various bonus schemes, pop up schemes, and so on, that actually enable people to get in with very low ATARs, or in fact no ATARs at all.

We need to move away from ATARs.  We need to look at proper allocation of places to universities based upon the demonstrated quality of their courses and proper upfront and exit examinations.  I mentioned Germany, there’s a state examination at the beginning of their training, and there’s a state examination at the end of it.  At the moment, we’re talking about some sort of thing at the end, but when you think about that, it could be well too late.  I mean, if someone were to fail that after doing their university training of four to five years, they’ve wasted a fair bit of time and we’ve waisted a fair bit of money training them.

Is there a need for more practical experience in teacher education?

It’s not quantity, it’s quality. One of the things that the reports often do, is say so many days of this and that, but this report hasn’t said that.  But some of the progress standards that have come out federally, had nominated numbers of days.  It’s not the number of days, it’s the quality of experience, it’s the quality of the relationship between the university and the schools where it’s candidates are being placed.

Now, the report comes out and mentions this, and quite rightly so.  Not only do teacher education courses have to have a strong evidence base, but there has to be the use of the evidence of what we know about what’s effective in terms of university-school partnerships.  And what’s the most effective way to train people.  So yes, we need to increase the amount of time in schools, but it’s also the quality of what happens in those schools.

At Melbourne University, for example, we have our people going into schools two days a week very early in their program.  So they get a lot of time in schools.  But it isn’t just the time in school that counts, it’s the quality of experience.  So we try and support them as much as we can, with special positions we provide, called Clinical Specialists and Teaching Fellows.  We try to provide as much support and connection as we can between ourselves and mentor teachers.  So it isn’t just a matter of quantity, it is also quality.

What are your feelings about moving teaching to a Graduate Degree?

Well I work in a Graduate Education school and we don’t take undergraduates.  But, I’ve been involved in teacher education for a long time and it dawned on me very early in my career in teacher education, that taking people straight from school, training them as teachers and sending them back to school, often in the same area that they’ve come from, is not a good thing to do.

The profession as a whole has been steadily moving towards Graduate entry.  There are more and more Masters at Teaching, for example, Post Graduate qualifications.  Including in areas like Early Childhood and Primary, I mean, we have an Early Childhood entry program.  We take in people, with a great range of experience.  We’ve had corporate lawyers, we’ve had pharmacists, and we’ve had people who’ve been journalists, all sorts of people, coming in.

Now, these are people at the age of 27, 28, on average, who’ve made a mature decision to become a teacher.  They’ve done other things, they’ve had other life experiences.  They bring great personal resources to a school.  Someone who comes in that’s an Environmental Scientist, for example, who’s coming from media and communications, as well as being a regular teacher, they’re bringing a lot of very, very useful skills that are transferable to the school setting.

I think, in an ideal world, I’d say, it should all be Graduate entry, but I’m realistic.  I think over time we will move more and more towards that.

 

Victoria leads the way in sustainability support for schools

Victorian schools are among the most sustainable in Australia due to the government’s investment in the ResourceSmart Schools program. Last year Victorian school involved with the program saved $3.8 million by reducing their energy and water consumption, and by generating less waste.

Read more

Tourism NT breaking barriers for school groups

Tourism NT breaking barriers for school groups

NT Learning Adventures, a collection of over 40+ tourism operators in the Northern Territory, have been working towards breaking down the barriers of school group travel to the NT, and are now offering grants to schools that participate in an NT Learning Adventure.

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Not many people realise, but the Northern Territory holds some of the most important historical events and artefacts, immersive living cultural experiences, impressive sustainability programs and much more. NT Learning Adventures have worked on creating links with NT destinations and touring products with the Australian Curriculum. Tour operators have been revising their current educational product, and improving their offerings by providing risk assessment; safety and security standards; and establishing direct educational links with the curriculum just to mention a few.

This year Tourism NT is promoting a $1000 grant offering to interstate schools that participate in the grant program. The grant is run by Tourism NT and aims to provide the opportunity to travel to the NT and experience all we have to offer at a more affordable price. By providing a grant direct to the school, allows the savings to be directed back to the student and their family, and in return experience an intellectual and unforgettable school excursion to be remembered for years to come.

To apply for the grant download the application pack here or for further information, schools are encouraged to go to the ntlearningadventures.com website or email education.tourismnt@nt.gov.au.

Grants are available until 26March 2016 for travel up until 30 June 2016.

Tourism NT breaking barriers for school groups

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Mineclass – How to set up an Interschool Minecraft project

Guest Post by Matt Richards – Microsoft Expert Educator

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Minecraft is an engaging platform for creativity, computational thinking, collaboration and learning. Crafting learning opportunities in Minecraft between schools is a wonderful opportunity to develop student collaboration and ICT for learning skills. Mineclass, started by a bunch of Australian Microsoft Expert Educators, was conceived to make interschool Minecraft projects a reality. See how you can can set up your own interschool projects, or just join the Mineclass group below.

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Mineclass

Overview

Students from geographically remote schools collaborate and construct technical creations in Minecraft as a learning platform. Mineclass gives teachers and students to how-to and a place to make all of this happen.

Objectives

•Students plan, design and collaboratively create structures and functioning machines in Minecraft.

•Students learn how communicate and collaborate effectively in web based projects.

•Students have real global audiences for their creations.

•Students run virtual excursions for other schools in their Minecraft world creations.

Requirements

1. Student Minecraft accounts – It is better if the students use their own Minecraft accounts to facilitate learning anytime/anywhere. You can acquire accounts at this link.

2. Server– If you have a fast internet connection (min. 50Mbps) at your school you can host the server yourself. Recommended server details at this link. If you don’t have a fast connection you can buy online Realms at this link.

3. Devices – Minecraft works on most devices (great if you are a diverse BYOD school). Students usually prefer laptops.

4. System Requirements – you can catch up on the technical system requirements at this link.

5. Preparation – Ensure your students all have Minecraft accounts. Initial setup is easier if you utilise the Minecraft Jedi in your class. Liaise with your IT Department to ensure Minecraft will be accessible on your school network. Request that they open needed ports if needed.

Ideas to ensure success

•Set some basic rules- students to be polite in all communications.

•No griefing (griefing is a Minecraft term for being destructive or rude in-world).

•Create and share with students a collaborative OneNote detailing the project, rules and ideas.

•Students can go in-world at any time BUT there needs to be balance with time management.

•Set a 30-60 min time each week where students from each school meet in-world and have a live skype video conference at the same time so students can converse face-to-face.

Launch

Make your Mineclass project launch exciting and fun. Let your students meet in Skype and introduce themselves face-to-face. Give them time to talk and discuss project ideas. Let them form sub-teams if required. Then let students go in-world for the first time. It is important to let them just play and muck around the first time they meet in-world. They may show off their Minecraft skills. There may be some griefing. Use this as an opportunity to reiterate the rules.

https://youtu.be/RI0BN5AWOe8 (embed video)

Project design

The spectrum of projects in Minecraft is almost limitless. For some ideas check out the video above. Students can create working calculators, toilets, computers, organic cells, sports stadiums with working scoreboards etc.

Computational Thinking

To create really cool working machines in Minecraft coding and computational thinking is required. Redstone and command block commands are the magic ingredient. Info on how to use redstone can be found at this link.

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Student directed learning

At this point in the project most teachers begin freaking out at their lack of Minecraft skills. DON’T PANIC! The students can teach you the basics! 🙂 When the project gets to the level of sophistication where it needs special requirements from the system you need to employ some of your students as admins.

Student Admins

Admins are the moderators in Minecraft. They can change variables, teleport players around, basically be omniscient. They are a much needed resource if your project gets out of hand or students begin griefing. Chose your admins carefully. You don’t want students to misuse their position of authority. This can be a great learning experience also.

Assessment

You can use Mineclass as an assessment project. Or not. If you want to link it to curriculum outcomes use screencasts, screenshots and conversation records as evidence. I recommend Microsoft Screenshots or Snipping Tool for this.

Audience

Once your students have created their amazing structures they can facilitate virtual excursions for students from other schools. These excursions can also be workshops where students teach other Minecraft skills.

I hope you choose to explore Minecraft as a collaborative learning platform for your students. The learning evidenced through my project has been phenomenal. Have fun! 🙂

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My School website won’t lift outcomes for all schools

This article written by Peter Goss – School Education Program Director at Grattan Institute – and Jordana Hunter – Fellow, School Education Program at Grattan Institute – was originally published on The Conversation https://theconversation.com/my-school-website-wont-lift-outcomes-for-all-schools-39796

MY SCHOOL WEBSITE SCREENSHOTS

Recently the federal government released a review of the My School website, which was launched in 2010. My School provides information about every school in Australia, including its financial resources, the background of its student cohort and NAPLAN results since 2008.

In his response to the review, Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced a number of proposed improvements to the My School website. The proposed changes are designed to make the site easier to use, with more options to compare schools, new data on school outcomes and, importantly, an increased focus on student progress.

Minister Pyne’s proposals are sound, but they are unlikely to make much difference to the quality of Australian schools.

Parents have a right to accurate information about schools. More transparency is good, provided the information is meaningful and takes into account non-school factors such as family background that we know influence student outcomes.

But if we look at achievement data, we may learn more about what students knew when they entered the school than what their school has taught them. A focus on student progress – how much an individual student has learnt over a given period – is a better indication of a school’s performance.

It’s heartening that reporting of the 2014 NAPLAN results focused more on schools with strong student gains than simply on schools with top marks. The review of My School has argued for strengthening this focus on student progress.

But the philosophy underpinning My School extends well beyond the desire to put accurate information in parents’ hands. The government, as its response to the review noted,

believes that transparency and accountability are essential to support parents and community participation in schools and to drive improved school and student outcomes.

How could information on My School improve outcomes?

Parents armed with data about school performance will in theory choose the best school for their children. Faced with competitive pressure on enrolments, schools will find ways to improve learning. The invisible hand of the market, mediated through parental choice, will lift outcomes across the education system. This approach has informed much of the government’s school education policy over the last decade.

Unfortunately, choice and competition are in practice much less effective at improving schools than we might wish. As the Grattan Institute’s report The myth of markets in school education shows, most schools face limited competition, and more information about them does little to increase it. For many reasons, most parents either can’t or won’t move their children from schools that perform poorly on NAPLAN to schools that perform well.

Most parents don’t shop around schools based on NAPLAN results
Most parents don’t shop around schools based on NAPLAN results

Recent research from the OECD supports these findings. Across countries and economies, educational performance is unrelated to whether or not schools have to compete for students.

This is not to say that information is not essential to school improvement. It is, provided it is put in the right hands.

Teachers need more information on their students’ progress

A wealth of evidence shows that teaching is more powerful when teachers have accurate, precise and timely information about what their students know, understand and can do. Good information guides teachers about what each student is ready to learn next and how to teach it.

These obvious statements are surprisingly hard to achieve in practice. Most schools in Australia fall short. Most systems provide too little support to schools and teachers to collect and harness deep knowledge about student learning.

It is hard to develop accurate student assessments that give teachers the reliable, diagnostic information they need. It is hard to develop materials and methods that tailor teaching to what each student is ready to learn next.

NAPLAN, designed to provide consistent and comparable national information, is not suitable for these highly targeted purposes. The Australian curriculum provides high-level guidance, but it is not enough either. It is hard to know whether each student is learning enough each year. And it is hard to identify and kick-start learning for those students whose progress has stalled.

Classroom teachers must do most of this hard work. But they should be equipped with better skills and better tools.

Governments should invest in teaching teachers how to gather and use accurate information on student learning. The recent Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report made a good start. It recommended higher education providers equip pre-service teachers with data collection and analysis skills to assess the learning needs of all students.

Governments should also invest more in high-quality materials and tools designed to help teachers in the classroom. Most schools, irrespective of their degree of autonomy or level of resources, lack the capacity to develop rigorous teaching materials and assessment tools.

Enhancing My School is valuable, but we should not kid ourselves that additional information on a website will significantly improve school outcomes. Instead, we should focus our energy on finding ways to provide teachers with better knowledge about their students’ learning and how to use it.

Do religion and belief systems have a place in the school curriculum?

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The place of religions and belief systems, especially Christianity, in the school curriculum is a sensitive issue provoking much discussion and debate in Australia.

The issue came to head in Britain last year with what has been titled the “Trojan Horse affair”. A small number of Islamic schools were investigated about the types of values being taught. The investigations led to Prime Minister David Cameron arguing that all schools must teach what it means to be British.

Cameron has argued that Britain is essentially a Christian nation, and students should be taught values such as “freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions”.

As a result of the review of the Australian national curriculum I took part in last year, the place of religions and beliefs systems, especially Australia’s Judeo-Christian heritage and traditions, also became a topic of discussion and debate.

Education researcher Tony Taylor criticised the review as an example of what he termed the “culture wars” and implied that the review’s recommendations would unfairly privilege a Judeo-Christian version of religion.

In its submission to the curriculum review, the Australian Education Union warned about the danger of including the Bible in the curriculum on the basis that the establishment of state education in the late 19th century was premised on “freedom from religion in teaching programs”.

This article was originally published online in The Conversation.

Read the original article in full here.