Professional Learning Communities

In recent times we have not had formal PLC’s within our school. We have had variations on the theme including this blog and at one point primary staff were traveling to Kadina to meet with other primary teachers from a variety of schools. We have teachers communicating with colleagues in other schools around their subject areas and the use of social media by some to broaden educational knowledge and understanding. What I feel we are missing is a time where R-12 PBAS staff get to more regularly discuss their professional responsibilities including programming, assessment, reporting and pedagogy.

My Proposal

The spark for this idea came from our student free day in week 8 term 3. Our morning session centred around our reporting proforma but also included some sharing about how teachers kept records of student learning and how we use this evidence to support our reporting to parents. When I initially organised this (which was Joelene’s great idea) I had asked for some staff to share how they went about this process. I thought that this session might go for 20 minutes or so but the discussion went for about an hour with some great sharing of practice.

My suggestion is that we continue this type of sharing and discussion into 2015 on a more formal basis. The idea being that twice a term we set aside time to discuss predetermined topics. A general invite would be put out to staff a week or two in advance to share with the aim that we have 3-4 staff organised to share practice. This will then hopefully lead to others sharing, as it did on the student free day or encourage discussion by the wider group on what had been shared.

Topics might include:

  • Using IT in the classroom
  • Behaviour management
  • Assessment
  • Making the classroom an inviting space
  • Using higher order thinking
  • Homework – Expectations, Value, How do you use it? Do you use it?
  • Connecting concepts to the real world
  • Providing different entry points to a topic or task
  • Connecting with parents
  • Different ways students present learning

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A number of responses to the Teaching and Learning Coordinator survey recently completed by staff said that this idea of sharing is powerful and should be something that is developed.

Some of the responses included:

More sharing of good practice (this has occurred at student free days/staff meetings). I believe this can be very powerful.

I find the times during staff meeting where we work on professional development collaboratively to be useful as I can compare what I’m doing with others.

I would like to have more sessions where staff can provide details of tasks, pedagogies, best practice. Being in the secondary department I often feel very removed from the other sections of the school and have really got a lot out of sessions like this. An example was the sharing of how staff keep records of student achievements and work samples.

As this process would involve a commitment from all PBAS staff I am asking for a response to this post firstly giving your opinion of the types topics you might like discussed and secondly would you support sharing your practice with others if approached?


Using Twitter with my 9/10 Health Class

I have been using Twitter professionally for 3 years and acknowledge it as a major cornerstone of my professional development and a source for the majority of information shared on this blog.

So having seen its benefits professionally I wondered how it would transfer into my 9/10 health class which is doing a drugs and alcohol unit this term. I am always conscious of not using technology because it’s all the rage or it’s what everyone else is doing until I have convinced myself of how it will improve student learning. Having said this sometimes it is hard to tell if the benefits will be realised without trialling it first. This is were I am at with using Twitter in my classroom.

My goals for Twitter in this class are:

  1. It will expose students to a broader range of opinion on the topic of drugs and alcohol.
  2. It will allow students to share quality information about the responsible use of drugs and alcohol including personal opinion and the latest data and facts.
  3. It will expose students to a new way of viewing social media. As a tool that can be used to develop professional and educational networks.
  4. It will be an opportunity to discuss responsible use of social media and how what you post represents you as a person. How do you want to be viewed?

Rather than discuss all aspects of how this task will work I have linked the following for you to view if interested:

1. Drugs and alcohol program (overview) linked to the Australian Curriculum

2. Twitter task explanation

3. Twitter task – parent letter

As part of setting up their accounts students had to follow each other and follow 16 organisations (selected by me) whose sole purpose was focused on the topic of drugs and alcohol, for example @DrinkWiseAust @ActiononAlcohol. We also created a class hashtag to allow us a way of seeing all of our tweets in one place, #910DA.

It will be interesting at the end of this unit to see if Twitter met my expectations in the classroom and what the students thought of it as a way of learning.

Below are screen shots from student accounts from our first lesson using Twitter.

The first image shows 6 student accounts. Most students created their accounts in pairs using the first name of one student and the last name of the other. All accounts required a “bio” explaining the purpose of their account.

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I retweeted all student tweets to my followers asking if they could follow, retweet or favourite some of my students tweets to help show them how Twitter works. I also thought it would give the students a buzz knowing that others were instantly viewing and sharing what they posted. The tweet below was from Brandon and contained a graphic which can be seen a bit further down. Brandon’s tweet was retweeted by myself and two others sending it out to over 1500 people.

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One of our focuses is medical marijuana and its legalisation in Australia. Both Connor and Maddy found that our Prime Minister Tony Abbot is in favour of legalising medical marijuana! It will be interesting to see what the students think after viewing the SBS program INSIGHT around this topic.

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Follow Up: Week 1 Term 4 Classroom Observations & Student Feedback Reflection

I hope that teachers found last weeks staff meeting time useful to reflect on their practice around classroom observations and student feedback. Thank you to teaching staff who emailed their reflections and goal for term 4 back to their line managers. Line managers will email a response back offering suggestions and support to help you to achieve your term 4 goal. Some teachers also took the time to comment on the post Got feedback Used Feedback which helped initiate the reflection that we did. At the time of writing there were 10 comments linked to this post from 5 staff sharing their thoughts and actions in the area of classroom observations and student feedback. If you would like to read or join that conversation click here.

The purpose of this post is to reinforce the importance of this area of our professional development by sharing a video put out by AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership).

The video is an interview between former AITSL Chair Tony Mackay and Ben Jensen (Program Director, School of Education, Gratton Institute) discussing teacher appraisal and sources of feedback that can inform teacher development. I think this helps to reinforce the path we are on in relation to classroom observations and student feedback.

What is AITSL?

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) provides national leadership for the Australian, State and Territory Governments in promoting excellence in the profession of teaching and school leadership.

Got Feedback? Used Feedback?

Have you had someone observe your students learning in your classroom?

  • If yes have you been able to use this information to plan some professional improvement goals for the remainder of 2014 and into 2015?
  • If no then when do you plan to invite someone into your class to observe your students learning?

Have you invited feedback from your students about your teaching?

  • If yes have you been able to use this information to plan some professional improvement goals for the remainder of 2014 and into 2015?
  • If no then when do you plan to invite your students to provide feedback to you based on your teaching?

John Hattie tells us the most important factor in student learning (outside of the student themselves) is the teacher. Dylan Wiliam also believes “every teacher needs to get better”, not just those that are seen as struggling but every teacher.

Of all the things we have to do, and there are many, helping students to learn is at the centre of our professional responsibilities. It therefore stands to reason that improving our ability to do this is also at the centre of our professional lives. We all attend T & D but how often does traditional T & D support us to drill down and examine our practice at the coal face, in the classroom?

If we only ever attend traditional T & D and rarely have our classroom practice analysed then I am suggesting that our T & D is going to be less effective than it could be. No doubt we need to attend conferences, develop networks, share ideas and keep up to date with the latest educational information and traditional T & D can do this. However all the great conferences in the world mean nothing if we choose not to find the time to change our classroom practice for the better. A conference may help us identify aspects of pedagogy that we need to improve but the disconnect between the conference and classroom is often too great with all our enthusiasm dissipating by the time we return to the real world. Conferences also struggle to identify our pedagogical blind-spots. There are certain things that we cannot identify in our own teaching without the assistance of observation by our peers, students or video. The idea that “We don’t know what we don’t know” (blindspots) is a key reason why we need to have others provide feedback on our teaching. This is not to say that traditional T & D can’t change practice for the better, I am just suggesting that classroom observations and student feedback provide a different lens for us to view our teaching by. In a supportive and committed environment were all staff help each other to develop their practice this lens can be a valuable learning tool.

For example, without the help of an observer or student feedback we may never identify that:

  • we don’t use small group work effectively
  • we only ever use direct instruction
  • we talk too much and do not allow for student input during class
  • we heavily weight our questions to the boys and forget the girls
  • we only ever use closed questions
  • we only ever call on the loudest children at the front of the class
  • we rarely give students options and choice
  • we provide little formative feedback
  • we never ask our students to use higher order thinking skills
  • we forget to find out what students already know
  • we need help developing relationships in our class
  • we do not challenge our students regularly enough
  • we only ever use one method with students to communicate their learning i.e. essay writing

So how might this all look? How do I get started, if I haven’t already? What do I do with all the feedback I get?

To be reminded about the PBAS observation process click here for a post I did in early September.

To help demonstrate the practical application of using classroom observation and student feedback I would like to share my use of student feedback and classroom observation and how they have helped me to develop some learning goals for the remainder of 2014 moving into 2015.

Below is a timeline of when I collected my feedback:

  1. Term 2 2014
    1. Student feedback – TfEL Compass survey tool. Domain 2 Create safe conditions for rigorous learning.
  2. Term 3 2014
    1. Student feedback – TfEL Compass survey tool. Domain 3 Develop expert learners.
  3. Term 3 2014
    1. Classroom observation week 7
    2. Classroom observation week 8
    3. Classroom observation week 9

Time is often a reason for not getting to things. If we can aim to gather information over time rather than think that it all needs to be done now we will be much more likely to maintain a process that provides regular (term by term) feedback. I have estimated that over the first 30 weeks of the year I have spent approximately 2.5 – 3.5 hours in total organising, collecting and analysing feedback on my teaching.

Below is what I have taken from my feedback to work on over the next 6-12 months. I still have the TfEL Domain 4 student feedback survey to complete in term 4.

I intend to try and complete one thing per term for terms 2, 3 and 4 in 2015 that is around classroom observation and student feedback. I want to leave term 1 2015 free to try and continue to develop what I have already identified below.

Issues/Concerns for me:

  • Will I get to focus much on these things in term 1 2015? It is a big term  for me with sports day, inter school sports day and SANTOS athletics.
  • Are there too many things to work on in the document below?
  • Will future feedback change my direction?
  • How will I go about improving in these areas? Where/how can I access support to get better?


Access the TfEL Compass tool via the LearnLink staff portal.

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For me, this quote (a modified Robert John Meehan quote) sums up what our attitude towards professional learning should be.


The Review of the Australian Curriculum – Government Response

Professor Ken Wiltshire and Dr. Kevin Donnelly were appointed by the Federal Government to conduct an independent review of the Australian Curriculum. This review has been completed and its findings have been released this month. Read the full report here. You can view the initial response by the Australian Government here. The information below is a summary of this document.

The Australian Government’s initial response to this Review encompasses five themes: (i) resolving the overcrowded curriculum, (ii) improving parental engagement around the curriculum, (iii) improving accessibility for all students (iv) rebalancing the curriculum and (v) reviewing the governance of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

1) The Overcrowded Curriculum – The Australian Government supports the Review recommendations relating to overcrowding in the curriculum. We must deal with the overcrowding of the curriculum as a matter of priority. Overcrowding means that teachers are finding it difficult to implement the Australian Curriculum and cover all the content in each subject. There are 4 recommendations listed to reduce overcrowding of the curriculum on page 7 (view here).

2. Improving Parental Engagement Around The Curriculum – Improved parent engagement means that parents have a better understanding of the teacher’s job and school curriculum. When parents are aware of what their children are learning, they are more likely to engage with their children’s learning activities at home. There is one recommendation listed to improve parental engagement on page 8 (view here).

3. Improving Accessibility For All Students – The Review heard evidence that the linear progression of the Australian Curriculum makes it difficult for children operating at below Foundation level and as a result the curriculum is not accessible for the students with additional needs. Parents of the students with additional needs are saying this was not what was promised and that the Australian Curriculum has lost credibility with them. Schools have a clear responsibility to address the learning needs of every one of their students. To better support schools in this endeavour, the Australian Curriculum needs more work to cater for student diversity. There is one recommendation listed to improve accessibility for all students on page 9 (view here).

4. Rebalancing The Curriculum – The Review highlighted that, to varying degrees, learning areas placed a strong focus on some content whilst sometimes completely neglecting other content. The Review’s Final Report has also listed recommendations for changes in the content for each subject area – these are covered in Chapter 7 of the Final Report and cover English, mathematics, history, science, geography, civics and citizenship, technologies, economics and business and lastly, health and physical education. There are two recommendations listed to improve rebalancing the curriculum on page 10 (view here).

5. Reviewing The Governance Of ACARA – Some of the recommendations of this Review go to the role, function and governance of ACARA. The Review identified concerns from some stakeholders that ACARA played the role of both developer and evaluator of the Australian Curriculum. There are two recommendations listed to improve rebalancing the curriculum on page 11 & 12 (view here).

What did I find interesting? The information below is taken from the report itself and not the Government’s response to the review.

  • Recommended that ACARA reduce content and narrow the “core” particularly in primary years.
  • Foundation to year 2 should have a stronger focus on literacy and numeracy.
  • Embed Cross Curriculum Priorities (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, and sustainability) into areas only where educationally relevant.
  • General Capabilities (Literacy, Numeracy & ICT) remain embedded across all curriculum areas while all other Capabilities only appear in relevant areas of the curriculum.
  • ACARA develop a smaller, parent-friendly version of the Australian Curriculum which clearly explains the intended curriculum a child will be learning in each year they are at school.
  • ACARA make it more clear what is considered mandatory and what is optional in the curriculum.
  • Recommendation to revise the AC to better include emphasis on morals, values & spirituality and better recognise contribution of Western civilisation and our Judeo-Christian heritage.

So there you have it. I wonder how much the current curriculum will change based on this review? Will it be significant or will it end up being just a tinker around the edges?

The Book With No pictures

Here is a book written for 4-8 year olds that has no pictures or illustrations of any kind and funnily enough is called, “The Book With No Pictures.”



The author, B.J. Novak, has created a book that engages young children with words alone, “The Book With No Pictures is a funny read-aloud experience for young children that may also inspire conversation about the power of the written word and the nature of a book itself.”

For more information about the book click here.

If you are wondering how a book with no pictures can engage 4-8 year olds then watch as B.J. Novak reads his book to a room full of children and their reactions to the words he reads. A fun and engaging book with a difference.

iPads as learning journals

During our week 8 term 3 student free day we discussed ways in which to collect and store evidence of student learning. One of these was the idea of using the iPad as a Learning Journal in particular for practical subjects. PE, Food Tech, Art, Science and Technology are all areas that could benefit from this type of learning journal. This is not to say other areas would not benefit but practical areas lend themselves to recording evidence of learning through photos and video.

The example below is a learning journal for Year 9/10 PE (Volleyball). A simple explanation of this journal is that it provides task outlines, success criteria , images and video that support those criteria and spaces for students to insert video and text explaining their learning. I have also created one for my 7/8 Badminton class.

Of course there are hurdles to over come to make this work.

  • Students need access to the same iPad, not every lesson but on a regular basis during the term.
  • The teacher has to create the learning journal in Book Creator and Airdrop (or FileBrowser) it to Book Creator on all student iPads .
  • Students need time in lessons to complete journal work (hwk not possible using school iPad).
  • Students need the opportunity to back up their journal on a regular basis to their student folder using File Browser incase their book is erased (accidentally or intentionally).
  • Students will need assistance and scaffolding to help them use apps like Book Creator and iMovie as well as any other app that might be used to create content for the journal i.e. Popplet and Explain Everything.

Once students have completed their journal the easiest way to hand it up is to Airdrop it to the teachers iPad (teacher opens in iBooks). This could potentially cause another issue as so many journals containing video will require a certain number of Gigabytes of free space on the teachers iPad. However if this is not a problem then the teacher now has access to all the students journals in their iBooks app.

Note: Students should also upload a copy of the ePub file to their student folder using the File Browser app. This allows the book to be deleted from the student and teacher iPads in the future while still providing access to it if needed i.e. a parent teacher interview.

It will be interesting to see how this process works. It is the first time I have tried it on a large scale (46 students across two classes).

Update November 2014 – A completed student journal