TfEL/AC Staff Meeting Wednesday Week 5

Our next TfEL/Australian Curriculum meeting is this coming Wednesday at 3:30pm.  I am suggesting that we just get straight into our group/individual work rather than meet as a group. Hopefully we can just continue from where we were up to at the end of the last meeting. If a short admin time is required after TfEL/AC you will be informed when this will start via email or day book.


Staff involved with TfEL have now begun the process of self evaluation using the Review Tools Handbook. This time can be used to continue this process. I think it was valuable last time for teachers to do this in the staffroom as it gave you the opportunity to initiate conversations around the process. On the student free day we will (as a whole staff) be going through a process which looks at how the DVD can be used to investigate a specific element of TfEL. Hopefully this will be useful as staff may be nearing the point where they want to investigate an element in depth.

Australian Curriculum

I assume the groups working on the Australian Curriculum will work in the same areas as the first meeting. Hopefully the process for investigating the AC is working and this is useful time with colleagues. If it is not then please see me with suggestions about other ways of undertaking the investigation of the AC. I am not precious of how we do it as long as it is a useful process.

Can I please ask the primary group to make a decision about when you will wrap up the Australian Curriculum science investigation and begin the maths investigation. It would be important that you have enough time to complete this and prepare for how programming and assessment for maths and science will look for semester 2.

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.


Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Instruction is not a new concept. Taking into account student differences in the way they learn is something that teachers try to do all the time. However personally I often feel there is little time to effectively plan to do this and as a result feel guilty that I am unable to do it as well as I would like. Often when we feel we don’t have time to differentiate effectively we teach using traditional modes of teaching which tend to suit the majority of the class but not all. Despite this my feeling would be that teachers agree that differentiation is an effective way to try and improve all students learning. Differentiation was also raised in our literacy diagnostic as something that could be improved within our school. Here are a couple of resources around Differentiated Instruction.

Differentiated Instruction – What is it?, Why do it?, Key features?, Five questions to ask in the classroom, Differentiated Instruction framework model.

Why are western education systems dropping behind the east?

Based on the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) 2009 PISA  (Program for International Student Assessment) assessments of students the top five education systems in the world are Finland, Hong Kong, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore. I have already mentioned Finland (No. 1) in an earlier post so thought I would post something about the other four.

My information is taken from a report by the Grattan Institute  titled Catching Up: Learning from the best school systems in East Asia. What is the Grattan Institute?

The Grattan Institute contributes to public policy in Australia as a liberal democracy in a globalised economy.  Our work is independent, rigorous and practical.  We foster informed public debate on the key issues for Australia, through both  private forums and public events, engaging key decision makers and the broader community. Taken from the Grattan Institute Web Site.

Some interesting points from this report include:

  • Average expenditure by OECD countries has increased by 34% between 2000-2008 but overall educational outcomes have dropped.
  • Expenditure on education is not an indicator of success. Korea spends less than the OECD average on education.
  • It is not cultural, these systems have not always been at the top. 11 years ago Hong Kong ranked 17th and Singapore ranked 15th in reading literacy. They now rank 2nd and 4th.
  • The four systems (Hong Kong, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore)  focus on things that are known to matter in the classroom, including a relentless, practical focus on learning and the creation of a strong culture of teacher education, research, collaboration, mentoring, feedback and sustained professional development”. Gratton Report.
  • In Shanghai, all teachers have mentors. New teachers have district-based mentors and two in-school mentors (one onclassroom management, the other on subject content).
  • In Hong Kong, classroom observations aim to change teacher culture and improve pedagogy.
  • Shanghai has larger class sizes to give teachers more time for school-based research to improve learning and teaching.
  • Hong Kong acknowledges that its move away from a strict examination focus has not yet persuaded most parents.
  • The four systems value the input of teachers and view them as partners in educational reform. They attend to international best practice, attract high quality applicants to education and focus on learning and building teacher capacity to deliver it.
  • In Shanghai, the average 15-year old mathematics student is performing at a level two to three years above his or her counterpart in Australia, the US, the UK or Europe.
  • Change in PISA mean reading scores from 2000 to 2009 – Australia (-13), U.S. (-5), OECD average (+1), Hon Kong (+7), Korea (+15).
  • There is a disconnect between policy and the school classroom in countries like Australia i.e. teacher development is often not suited to teacher needs, one off courses are common even though research shows that they are ineffective.

To have a look through the full report click here.

Other links:

Herald Sun article – More dollars but less sense training our teachers and kids

The Power of Mobile Learning

I was not going to share this video to begin with but as it continued I saw some things that made me want to share it. There is great footage of special education students using iPads and other mobile devices and the obvious benefits not just to their learning but to their independence and sense of worth. As a teacher it was touching to see their learning and the positive impact that technology was having. I couldn’t help thinking about Connor and how great an iPad would have been for him. Maybe he has one now?

What are your rules?


We all have philosophies/ideas about how we should teach that help to define us as teachers. Having a clear set of beliefs about how we should approach teaching helps us focus our efforts rather than aimlessly wonder through our teaching career with little direction.

Below is a a link to a list of rules a teacher named Alison Pearse has for herself. These rules form the basis for how she teaches and interacts with students. The rules, although listed 1-10 are not ranked from most important to least.

Some of the rules listed might cause some debate while others I am sure we will all agree with. Some of the rules talk about using reward incentives, being prepared to admit mistakes & say sorry, being flexible, negotiate, professional learning, reporting to parents, respecting students, defining student success, organisation & clarity and allowing students to see something of your life outside school.

Do you have a set of ‘rules’ that defines how you carry yourself as a professional? Do you agree with the ones Alison Pearse has mentioned?

Click here to read Alison Pearse’s list in detail. You may need to read this at home as the site is blocked at school and may not even give you the opportunity to override it.


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!

The Differentiator – using Blooms Taxonomy to structure tasks

This is a great web app. Although its name is a little misleading. Depending on how you use it it doesn’t necessarily make you differentiate your instruction. Never the less it is a fantastic tool to help you design a task statement in any subject area that is linked to Blooms Revised Taxonomy.

Go to the following link and watch the video then create a task using the tool (total time to do this – 1 min. 18 sec for video and 5 min to create the task).

The Differentiator Blooms Taxonomy 

If you like that try Respondo – creative literature task creation.

Both of these tools are created by Ian Byrd

Individualisation, Personalisation and Differentiation?

Differentiation is something that has been discussed at school lately, perhaps spurred on by the literacy diagnostic and report our school undertook and received in 2011.

Very quickly differentiation is about the way we instruct to cater for different learning styles in our classrooms. But are we really clear about what differentiation is and are we aware that there are other terms out there that refer to how we cater for differences in student learning. You’re probably not surprised, it is not unusual for education academics to come up with terms (or buzzwords) to describe every facet of our profession.

I did find the following useful when trying to look at different approaches we can take in the classroom to improve student learning. Please be aware that these are not definitive definitions of individualisation, personalisation and differentiation.

Click on this link to find out how the U.S. Department of Education defines individualisation, Personalisation and differentiation.

Click on this link to look at individualisation, personalisation and differentiation from more of a teachers classroom point of view. By Barbara Bray.