Critical thinking in junior primary

How often do we ask children a question, they reply with an answer that was not what we were looking for and so we tell them ‘the right’ answer? Generally there can be many answers to a question all of which can be technically correct. Do we dismiss to easily answers given by students when they are not the ones we were looking for? Miki Kano discusses critical thinking and how she feels it is important for young children to be taught how to think critically. She also discusses how this is not a part of traditional Japanese culture. How often do we ask our students ‘Why?’ or ‘How did you find that out?”

Creating the schools we need – Chris Lehmann

In the following video Chris Lehmann speaks about a range of topics in a passionate and inspiring way. Chris is the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, PA.

A quote from the video – “How dare anyone think you can transform a child if you are unwilling to be transformed yourself.”

Chris’ talk covers the following topics:

  • Learning v training for a test
  • Training for the work force v training the citizen
  • Schools need vision
  • Unlearning and relearning ……..
  • Schools should be caring institutions – we teach kids not subjects
  • Inquiry and questioning
  • Student centred, it is not about us
  • Kids need adults and mentors
  • Technology – ubiquitous, necessary and invisible
  • Community based – bring the world into the classroom
  • Collaboration
  • Schedules, day structures, integration, deeper learning
  • Meta-cognition – teach students how to think

Learning Design Part 4

The information below is taken from the Leaders Resource – Getting Started developed by the Teaching and Learning Services team DECD.

In the last post I talked briefly about finding out about student’s current knowledge of content (part 2 ‘What do they bring’). It is important however to remind ourselves that there is so much more that impacts on student learning than just students content knowledge. As teachers we must try to find out as much useful information out about our students as we can to assist us with teaching and designing new learning (making connections with students and not just teaching isolated ideas or concepts). Things that students bring to the classroom that impact on how they will learn include:

  • There personal view of themselves as a learner – is it from a fixed view of intelligence? i.e. I will not get any smarter, I will always be dumb or I enjoy learning new things, I know I can get smarter (see the two videos below).
  • What is going at home can impact on the learning that happens in the classroom.
  • Cultural experiences and perspectives.
  • Do they have the foundation they need to proceed? What is needed for them to proceed? i.e. appropriate research skills, debating skills, skills required for using technology software, time management skills, communication skills etc…..
  • Student’s perception of the teacher.
  • Learning styles and preferences.
  • Students bring different motivations? What challenges and motivates each student? Do they see challenges as opportunities to learn or do they shy away in fear of looking wrong?

Teachers have always understood that there are a wide range of things that impact on students learning. It is critical that we try to understand all knowledge/attitudes and misconceptions that students bring to the classroom. We should ask ourselves:

•What are the common patterns we have seen that learners bring?
• What are their existing understandings?
• What dispositions, experiences, questions do they have?
• What strategies capture and enable this?

Video 1: Carol Dweck talks about how some students are motivated by learning and not worried about how others perceive them. What are the things that these students bring to the classroom that give them this attitude towards learning?

Video 2: Dr Martin Westwall talks about Learner Self Theories (this video was taken from the TfEL DVD produced by DECD) . Does how a learner percieve themselves impact on their learning?


Video 1

Carol Dweck – Stamford University

Video 2 This video was taken from the Teaching for Effective Learning DVD produced by the Department of Education and Child Development.


Some of you may be familiar with TED Talks “Ideas Worth Spreading”. A great site that provides short talks on a huge range of topics. The quality of speakers and talks that can be found on TED Talk is excellent. So now TED have created TED Education. A site that brings together outstanding lessons by educators all over the world and employs professional animators to then animate those lessons to produce a quality videos (no longer than 10 minutes) for you to use free in your classroom. This in itself is good but there are a number of other functions the site offers. You can customise (flip) the videos provided on the site to suit your class and track your students success/use of the video(s). The videos are accompanied by lessons which are not designed to replace good teaching but are there to supplement a teachers lesson. These lessons contain quiz questions, open ended questions and resources to dig deeper into the topic. This site has only just got up and running, at the time I posted this the video below had only been on You Tube for 15 hours. This means there are currently not a huge number of videos available just yet (62 at the time of this post).  I wouldn’t be put off by this however as I would be guessing this will increase rapidly over the next 12 months.

From the brief look I have had of the site it certainly seems to be more suited to secondary students.

Below I have embeded a couple of videos from Ted Ed including the TED Ed Website Tour plus one from Adam Savage (Mythbusters) who walks through two spectacular examples of profound scientific discoveries that came from simple, creative methods.


Click here to visit TED Ed Lessons Worth Sharing – put this site in your favourites!

Click here to visit TED Talks Ideas Worth Sharing – put this site in your favourites!

Does ‘Hands Up’ in a classroom have a negative impact for some?

Love the faces of the teachers in the video when Dylan Wiliams is talking to them about ‘hands up’. I can’t believe how worried they look and apprehensive they are to something as small as using a different method for getting students to answer questions.

It would be interesting to hear what staff think about the concept of ‘hands up’ being detrimental to student learning (for those that don’t engage). I know Ed is having a go at this so it would be interesting to hear his perspective on how he thinks it is helping (or not) in his class.

Part 1

Part 2

AC/TfEL Staff Meeting Wednesday Week 9

Just a reminder about our Australian Curriculum and TfEL meeting coming up next Wednesday (week 9).

Again we will just go straight into these meetings and if time is required afterwards for a short admin meeting (10-15min) you will be notified.


If staff looking at TfEL could meet in the staff room at 3:30pm. Staff in this group will be at one of two points – 1. Still undertaking the ‘Personal Reflection’ pg 10 and the ‘Self Review of Practice’ pg 11 OR 2. Based on your reflection you have decided on what one or two  Elements you would like to investigate and improve as part of your teaching. If you are at this point you will need the DVD. Download the resources for your Element(s) and start to investigate what these resources are about and what they have to offer. Remember there are PDF files (articles, questions etc) and MP4 files (video) which often link back to a PDF file. It is also important that you are documenting some of your progress (dot points?) as it should be forming a part of your performance management process.

Australian Curriculum

R-6 Maths -Meet in Kim’s room? I am assuming that primary staff are now looking at the Australian Curriculum: maths. I had a meeting with Trish Boschetti, one of three district Australian Curriculum officers in our area, and she is willing to attend some of our staff meetings where possible. She committed to come to this meeting in week 9 and also the first AC/TfEL meeting in week 2 term 2. I have suggested to Trish that she has a general discussion with you in next weeks meeting to find out where you are at and what your concerns are. Hopefully the next meeting in term 2 she can structure something useful for you based on your needs and bring along resources (she did mention she was keen on doing something around assessment and moderation).

My intention is to try and access Trish for the primary staff initially as they are on the tightest timeline having to plan, assess and report in semester 2 this year. My hope is that as we move into the end of term 2 and start of term 3 Trish will be available to work with secondary staff.

8-10 History (Justin, Rosalie and Nick) – Meet in library. My understanding from our last meeting was that we wanted to try and design a proforma that allowed for a more user friendly version of the Achievement Standards in history.

8-10 Science (Allan and Tanya) – Depending on where you are at maybe having a look at the portfolios of work for science at Years 8, 9 and 10. May be useful. Would be interesting to get your view point on the standard expected at a ‘satisfactory’ level at each year level.

I have not got around to staff to ask where they are at with the AC/TfEL over the last fortnight as it has been quite busy. I feel like I need to know where people are at so that when I am looking at resources or talking with district people like Trish I can access relevant and appropriate resources that link to where staff are at at that point in time. So if you get the opportunity to let me know where you or your group is at either face to face, email or even a comment to this post that would be great.

A Fear of Failure

Last week I posted about Assessment, Grading and Learning and got some responses from Ed, Paul and Kim discussing their thoughts on these things. Some of this post talked about failure and its links with to learning. To add to this discussion I have found two videos by Dan Haesler that discuss failure. Feel free to add your comment/views on failure and how you see it’s relevance in a classroom.

Assessment, Grading and Learning

Quite often in a secondary setting I have found it is easy to get into the habit of using summative assessment more than formative assessment and focusing more on the end result rather than the learning along the way.  I have always tried to design formative and summative assessment tasks that are beneficial to learning but at times I have focused as much on getting marks/grades to ensure I could generate a report when required as I have the actual learning. Because of this my assessment has often lacked in the formative area. In the last 8 months or so I have thought about assessment and grading more and more and how it impacts on learning.

The following are quotes from educators around testing & grading and learning and what they see as the contradictory nature of these terms.

“We try to individualize instruction because all students are not the same but we standardize assessment with the expectation that students learn at the same rate.” Beth Knittle

“We’ve confused measurement with assessment and forgotten that the root word for assessment is assidere with translates into ‘to sit beside’. We’ve come to see assessment as a spreadsheet when it’s really a conversation.” Joe Bower

“If you are looking to increase a child’s anxiety, desire to escape and fear of failure, or decrease their intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy then it makes perfect sense to grade students.” Joe Bower

As a teacher I want students who enjoy learning for learnings sake and not for the end result of an A, B, C, D or E grade (or word equivalant!). I want students who don’t care if they fail but just get back up and try again. I want students who learn in an environment that is diverse and broad not narrow. As a set of beliefs I am not sure I would get to many arguements here and yet the policies we enact may just encourage the opposite.

We want students who enjoy learning but the end result for most students (increasingly more so at younger year levels) is an A, B, C, D or E grade, this is not teaching students to love learning so much as teach them compliance. Do this and you will get that and once you have that the learning often stops.

We would like kids to embrace failure but through the school system we encourage students to fear failure. We all know what a ‘D’ or ‘E’ means. Students don’t want to show their parents because the reaction (first reaction at least) is often not where do we go from here and how do we improve (because quite frankly there is generally not enough information in a report card for that to happen) but a displeased look which conveys everything to the child – you are not good enough. Hence the student’s attitude becomes “I don’t want to fail!”

We want a diverse learning environment but NAPLAN and all the other standardised/academic tests we use encourage a narrow view of education not a broad one. Why are we all doing persuasive writing in term one? Because NAPLAN said so.

Obviously assessment and reporting are an essential part of schooling but I am now not as sure as I was 12 months ago about how that should look to students, teachers and parents.

  • Can we focus on developing quality formative assessment (a lot of teachers do this well) as a way to improve learning? A lot of research says formative assessment has more impact on learning. Formative assessment allows for informative, useful, constant task focused feedback and practice. Summative tasks are still useful but without a higher percentage of formative tasks lack the ability to improve student learning.

One of the key components of engaging students in the assessment of their own learning is providing them with descriptive feedback as they learn. In fact, research shows descriptive feedback to be the most significant instructional strategy to move students forward in their learning. Descriptive feedback provides students with an understanding of what they are doing well, links to classroom learning, and gives specific input on how to reach the next step in the learning progression. In other words, descriptive feedback is not a grade, a sticker, or “good job!” A significant body of research indicates that such limited feedback does not lead to improved student learning. Association for Middle Level Education

  • Can we convey more effectively to parents where there kids are at and what there learning is?
  • Grades are so ingrained. When a parent and child sees and A, B, C, D or E grade the writing that follows, however informative, almost fades away into the background.
  • One school I’ve heard sends their comments home first. Two weeks later the grade goes home. hmmm……interesting!

Maybe what is written here is confronting, I know it is for me. For 17 years I have focused on a small number of formative tasks, made the summative task the main aim and tried to generate grades as a way of passing on how well a student has performed. Should I change? Can I change within a system that is based on grading as an end point? What is your position on this topic? I encourage you to leave your point of view in the comments section.



For 20 minutes or so a day I go on Twitter and have a look at the ‘tweets’ the teachers I follow have made. Everyday I find something useful, it could be a website, a video, a blog post, a concept to use in my teaching, a conversation I can join in on (sometimes I start my own).

At the 7-12 meeting on Wednesday Ali Newbold made the statement that one off T&D is often not worthwhile as we never have time to implement or follow up the large concepts or programs that a 1 or 2 day conference provides. They often motivate us for the next week and that’s the end of that. Twitter gives me access to as many educators and their ideas as I like and I’m being drip fed those small useable pieces of information on a daily basis. A small sample of useful tweets/information that I have used from Twitter:


  • A PE teacher suggested I make links with the fundamental motor skills used in athletics to every day physical activities to try and demonstrate the importance of developing correct technique in athletics, not just to throw further, jump higher etc. This was in response to me talking about how I was running my athletics classes this year using a different approach to previous years.
  • The idea for ‘The Shadow Game’ came from a Twitter link. An inspired idea by a PE teacher (no jokes about ‘inspired’ and ‘PE teacher’ being used in the same sentence)! I tried it out last year and the R-3 students (plus some year 10’s) had a ball. Ed also came down and had a look.
  • A science teacher from Sydney and myself shared our sites that we created for staff in our schools. Helped us both.
  • I had a problem with an app on my iPad and through Twitter contacted the maker (another PE teacher) who helped me sort out the problem in 15 minutes.
  • Twitter has broadened my knowledge of education internationally. I have learnt about education systems like Finland’s through Twitter and the links to articles and video. I have read as teachers compare systems in the UK, Finland, the US and my understanding of these systems has grown.
  • Sometimes it’s just a statement someone makes that allows you to think more deeply about your educational beliefs like this one from @joe_bower “If tests & grades and creativity disappeared tomorrow which would you miss more?”

It has taken time to build up a ‘following’ list, but it has been worth it. The teachers I follow range from teachers of various subjects (mainly HPE) but also IT and the odd science teacher to JP and primary teachers to school leaders and internationally renowned educational theorists like Sir Ken Robinson. These people span the globe and cover over 13 different countries at last time I counted.

I know Twitter is not for everyone and the views we as adults have of social sites like Facebook and Twitter is not always a positive one. But I can honestly say that Twitter is the most useful Web 2.0 tool I have come across in terms of what it provides me on a daily basis. So if you think you might like to try Twitter, jump in, have a go – what the hell it’s free!