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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Archive for August, 2013

HTAV Primary Teachers’ Conference: Workshop#2: Vincent Lingiari: Aboriginal Land Rights

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

This session was blogged live, so apologies for typos, omissions, errors of interpretation and US spelling imposed by my software. It was presented by Amanda Carmichael and Marcus Mulcahy from Carrum PS.

The session began with footage from a 1960s Peter Luck ABC TV doco explaining the Wave Hill Aboriginal Land Rights issue.  It was chastening to watch it, knowing how things have turned out.  All these years later, there is still so much wrong to redress…

Education about these issues is one way to change attitudes, and Amanda and Marcus are on a mission to encourage knowledge and understanding.   They showed us various film resources to use, but noted that teachers need to do a lot of work on visual literacy with their students.  These were excellent background resources for teachers who don’t know much about the topic.  However, and maybe I’m selling my students short, I have to say that some of these films would be unlikely to keep my students’ attention for long, especially the students who are EAL and not very fluent in English.  These kids find voiceovers difficult because there are no visual cues to help them separate words and process long sentences.  The ones with sub-titles were the best, I think, and yes, teachers would need to do a lot of work on visual literacy.

Apropos the keynote address from this morning, it would have been good if they had begun this presentation with some explanation of how the topic fits into the Australian curriculum.  I can see how it addresses the Aboriginal History and Culture Priority, and also skills such as developing empathy, recognising other perspectives and so on, but I had to quickly scour the ACARA website to know which level the content of this topic is for.

The Year 6 work samples published by ACARA give some idea how this topic fits into the curriculum.

(To be fair, the presenters had MAC/PC technological issues so they couldn’t share their PowerPoint, so maybe they had intended to address this).

There are more resources to explore at Marcus’s website:  His sister Brenda Croft is doing a PhD about this and he recommends keeping an eye out for her name for future resources.

It is important also to use, as a lead-in to the topic, the Ted Egan song, Poor Bugger Me and From Little Things Big Things Grow by Paul Kelly.

Macmillan have also published the story of Vincent Lingiari in their Stories from Australia’s History series.  See Fishpond.

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Indigenous Teaching Resources, Learning and teaching, Professional Development | Tagged: | Comments Off on HTAV Primary Teachers’ Conference: Workshop#2: Vincent Lingiari: Aboriginal Land Rights

HTAV Primary Teachers’ Conference workshop#1: Teaching History through Literature

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

Blogged live, so apologies for typos, omissions, errors of interpretation, and US spelling imposed by the software.

Presenters Jo Clyne and Ingrid Purcell from HTAV are authors of a new resource called Dear Oma, A Story of Federation which is about to hit the bookshops.   The book was written with an awareness that in primary schools:

  • Composite classes complicate teaching a sequential curriculum
  • Literacy and numeracy take priority so there’s not much time for history
  • teachers also have to cover Civics and Citizenship
  • there is new AC history content to cover, and
  • Primary teachers are experienced at teaching through fiction.

Dear Oma aims to give context, to tune students in and to engage them emotionally, and is linked (of course) to the AC.  The authors actually chose Federation as a topic because it was a bit dry and hard to teach in an interesting way.  (A brave choice!) Set on the day of the Federation Parade in 1901, the book tells the story of a recent German immigrant to Melbourne, and is based on real people, real events, real places and real objects (using one of the digitised newspapers, The Argus, via Trove as a resource). Karl is a boy and he sells Federation souvenirs outside parliament (i.e. the Exhibition Buildings), and he meets a whole lot of people – which gives the authors the opportunity to show how Federation affects different sorts of people. Using Karl in this way also enables a child’s perspective on Federation as it happens, and the authors have used all kinds of clever ways to bring the period to life.

Karl, for example, meets a Chinese boy who’s not going to the parade.  The boy, Peng, explains resentfully why not: it’s because of the White Australia Policy which is to come in after Federation.  The authors faced a dilemma with using authentic objects as primary sources, because, for example, the souvenirs were racist, and unless these resources are used carefully they can have an unfortunate effect. So Jo and Ingrid have tried to problematise the issues rather than making judgements about them.  Some issues (such as the right to vote for Aboriginal people) are more complex than they seem at first glance, so teachers need to take care.

Most resources for Federation as a topic have been secondary focussed, so there’s a real need for primary resources that are age-appropriate. Jo and Ingrid have also provided web resources,  such as online mapping to find the actual places where these events took place; and worksheets analysing the multiple perspectives to develop empathy: immigrants, indigenous people, the old and the young.  These web resources include links to images, virtual history exhibitions and activities, i.e. it’s a 21st century teacher’s manual to support the book.

It sounds like a good package!

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

2013 HTAV Primary Teachers Conference Keynote address #2

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

Once again I am blogging this live, so I apologise in advance for typos, errors of omission or misinterpretation, and for the American spelling imposed by the software I’m using. 

Genevieve Grieves, curator at the Melbourne Museum began with the story of a forthcoming Melbourne Museum exhibition called First Peoples, Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. (I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the name of her country).  The other presenters were Amanda Reynolds and Rosemary Wrench from Melbourne Museum.

The presentation focussed on how the exhibition was created i.e. the process.  Curators’ job was to listen to Aboriginal communities across Victoria.


  • Using Aboriginal voices and languages
  • Curriculum
  • A collaborative voice
  • Victoria

The exhibition includes the ‘harder stories’ i.e. frontier violence.

The entrance includes welcoming message sticks: if you touch them you hear indigenous people from different parts of Victoria saying welcome in different languages. 

Victorian iconography – less familiar to most than iconography from desert areas e.g. dot point paintings – includes

  • cloaks – including rare examples
  • baskets and shields – people can touch them and learn how they were made.
  • an immersive experience using Bunjil the eagle

Aboriginal history and culture involves 2000 generations of stories, which are tracks back through time to when Aboriginal people lived with mega-fauna, and which explores knowledge coming from science and from storytelling by Aboriginal elders.  Elders used observation and ingenuity the way that scientists do, and visitors are encouraged to look at images of tracks, signs, rock art etc. to interpret it.  Some artifacts were made especially for the exhibition using traditional methods, and the modules are set up to be immersive.  Community narrators explain the complex concepts involved in reading country and knowing the interconnected nature of knowledge.   Visitors can also explore how knowledge is passed on, because Aboriginal lore isn’t passed on by specialists, everyone is a teacher.

Much of this presentation involved images, video and sound from the exhibition so I’m not doing a very good job of sharing how interesting it was.  I’ll try to give a sense of the different modules:

  • The exhibition covers old ways, and early encounters with ‘Strangers from the Ccean’ (and the sadness that befell people at that time) which includes artifacts of explorers such as George Bass.  There is a memorial to people who lost their lives too, and there are stories from oral history about what happened, e.g. kidnapping by sealers. Some of this will be confronting but it is felt that people are ready for this now. 
  • Then there is Our Shared History with modules called e.g. Treaty and Tanderum, i.e. two laws side by side,comparing Batman’s infamous treaty with laws as represented by message sticks. 
  • There is Call to Fight which includes massacres and battles but also indigenous service.  The key concept here is that Australia has many battlefields. 
  • Burdens to Bear covers oral history stories sharing personal stories about how their lives were affected by various pieces of legislation controlling Aboriginal lives. 
  • Standing Strong is another model about protest movements, land rights struggles and so on. 
  • Working Hard explores Aboriginal contributions to the modern economy as well as the traditional work ethic. 
  • Coming Together explores NAIDOC Week and other modern ways of celebrating culture, continuing stories, celebrations and knowledge.

The Many Nations component of the exhibition includes showcases of objects from the 19th century and contemporary objects from all over Victoria.  This covers

  • Keeping places – beautiful handmade pieces
  • Animal creations – creation stories, animals that bring good luck, items never displayed before
  • Marking identity – timbers, shields etc
  • Working Country – tools and so on
  • Celebrating Culture – body ornamentation, musical instruments, clothing including fibres, feathers and bones etc.

These showcases also include objects that show ways in which children are included:

  • mother and daughter digging sticks
  • child-sized shields

and there’s an activity table for 4-9 year-olds, with games and puzzles etc. for children to engage with.  There’s also a showcase called Toy Stories, with toys to look at.  (Do check out my review of Bush Toys, Aboriginal Children at Play, by Claudia Haagen, I hope there’s an exhibition catalogue for First Peoples too?)

Perhaps there will be a virtual exhibition as well, I hope so, because not all children can visit the museum, for one reason or another.

The final part of this presentation was about the Generations part of the exhibition, with stories from indigenous people from all over Victoria, of all age groups.  Every time you walk into the Deep Listening Space you get a different multimedia experience, where you are invited to ‘listen with your head and your heart’.

This is the kind of exhibition that teachers really need to attend because it will give us lots of ideas about how to introduce Aboriginal perspectives across all kinds of history topics.  Learning about Aboriginal culture and history is a core responsibility for all teachers of history and although it’s a long journey with no endpoint, we have an obligation to keep learning.  I’ll be visiting this exhibition during school holidays as part of my own professional development.

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Professional Development | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on 2013 HTAV Primary Teachers Conference Keynote address #2

2013 HTAV Primary History Teachers Conference: Keynote address#1

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013

NB I’m blogging this live, so I apologise in advance for typos, omissions, the American spelling imposed by the software (Windows Live) and any errors of interpretation about the speaker’s address.

The first Keynote address was presented by Geraldine Ditchburn from the History Teachers Association of Victoria.  Her topic was Creating pedagogical airholes in the Australian Curriculum: History.

The AC requires us to teach history in a formal and disciplined way [and this is a challenge for primary teachers not trained in the method, and fond of teaching ‘integrated curriculum’, so-called].

Assumptions about curriculum impinge on understandings about pedagogy.  There isn’t always a shared understanding about this:

Geraldine hears lots of anxieties about implementing the AC – many feel daunted and overwhelmed, especially if there’s no academic background in history.  What we do have as primary teachers is experience in offering and engaging curriculum – and that’s a big advantage.  Geraldine shared her own story as a teacher of ‘social education’ – an integrated subject and there was no syllabus other than what they designed themselves.  ‘Not quite ‘curriculum on the run’ but they adjusted content when current events intervened.  This was a time with no national assessments, no directives about what to teach or how to teach it.  ‘Frameworks’ was the first framework that she used, and it was a watershed because it added ‘values’ and ‘actions’ to content and skills in the curriculum. This took curriculum beyond the classroom walls.

The point is that we all work within bigger frameworks, who or what constructs these can change, and the frameworks can change what is considered valid.  We need to be clear about what effective pedagogy looks and feels like.  We need to use our professional judgement and be ‘intellectual artisans’.  We deliver the curriculum, not ACARA – we have licence to do what works best.

Curriculum is –

  • a dumping ground for everything (including stuff that families used to do)
  • a depository for passing on culture – how do we choose what we value?
  • not always consistent with the agenda that’s supposed to be taken up – because it always embodies values, ideas about the future etc. It’s more about a nation’s soul than a technical task.

Is curriculum a noun, or a verb?  It depends on your assumptions. The choice affects a teacher’s engagement.

Curriculum as a noun implies a product, and therefore associated with content.  So teachers become implementers, and it may lead to ‘getting through it’ i.e. a ‘pedagogy of speed’.  Teachers may feel pressured by assessment and accountability …

If you see curriculum as a verb, it’s a process, it’s fluid and it needs input from those who use it.  It’s nothing without human input.  It requires us to be ‘artisans’ using it, developing curriculum that engages the students.  (Geraldine quoted assorted academics to support these ideas, but I didn’t catch their names. )

We need to adapt for our students and focus on a bigger pictures, make history come alive, select and integrate with other areas, expect professional and student input and expect change.  Yes, it’s messy.  What works with one lot of students doesn’t necessarily work with another, and teaching is hard enough without having to cope with bored students.

There aren’t that many supports for putting the people (teachers and students) into the curriculum.  What’s in the AC doesn’t help much with decision-making. Often we start with the content, but if it grows out from the focus Qs, or the CCPs. (I’ve forgotten what these are).  There are no principles in the document to guide us.  G thinks that the underlying principle is that curriculum is a noun.  [Whereas I think, it’s been designed to allow us to travel any way we like, and accommodate differences across States].

If we look at the AC:History from ‘above’ some elements stand out from the ‘forest’ of the document.  Geraldine says, start with the rationale and the bigger elements: skills, focus Qs and historical concepts.

Big ideas:

  • a discipline process of inquiry
  • curiosity and imagination
  • understanding ourselves and others
  • change and continuities
  • evidence, interpretations, debate, and respecting different perspectives
  • critical analysis
  • context,  substantiating interpretations and communicating them.

Key concepts – the pillars of the curriculum

  • cause and effect
  • empathy
  • evidence
  • perspectives
  • significance
  • continuity and change
  • contestability.

We need to make these big words meaningful for students.

Significance is a problematic concept.  It’s important to:

  • link the personal with the bigger narrative
  • use the vocabulary – both students and teachers need to use them
  • exist in the students world and can best be understood in their own world

Note that the achievement standards do not include content, they’re about skills and concepts.

Geraldine talked about integrating the curriculum in the usual ways – the important thing is to have the critical conversations with peers, and share what works and what doesn’t.  Any new initiative is going to have faults, supporting this critical evaluation with colleagues is the way to go.  Take ownership, celebrate, and share – especially online!

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Conferences Attended, Learning and teaching, Professional Development | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Book Review: Horrendo’s Curse, by Anna Fienberg, graphic novel artwork by Rémy Simard

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 12, 2013

Horrendo's CurseHorrendo's CurseThe kids at my school are going to be rapt!

They love everything that Anna Fienberg writes, and the original edition of Horrendo’s Curse illustrated by Kim Gamble has been a favourite for a long time, but this graphic novel version of it will go down a treat. Not just with reluctant readers, but also with readers who like reading but whose digital experiences make them less willing to engage with static print.  These readers crave bright colours and jazzy graphics and I have no doubt that this edition will lure them in with its appealing comic-book format.  It’s slightly bigger than the usual ‘chapter book’ format (15 x 23cm) and every page is in full colour with fabulous art work by Rémy Simard telling the story.  (The size is important.  The last time I tried to read an (adult) graphic novel the print was just too small for me to read.)

Horrendo’s Curse is a classic tale of The Kid Who Doesn’t Fit In.  Every year the pirates come to town to enslave the twelve-year-olds so the boys need to be tough.  But on the day he was born Horrendo was cursed by a wise witch so that he was never to be able to swear, curse, hurt or maim anyone.  Once aboard the pirate ship his kind heart and gentle ways exasperate the captain, but he wins the friendship of the crew with his culinary talent and his expertise in nursing wounds, so it’s not hard to guess how it all ends up.

Horrendo’s Curse is deliberately ‘naughty’. There is fighting and cursing and the humour is gross.  The parents are a lily-livered bunch of no-hopers who don’t do anything to stop their children being kidnapped, and some of the characters get eaten by sharks.  Children reading this are from the age group that enjoys being a little bit frightened and a little bit silly, and they will probably enjoy it more if they think that adults will disapprove or be shocked.

But adults with a sense of humour will need to pretend to be shocked by the cursing.  Here are some examples:

I’m gonna grill your gizzards in oil!’
‘You grog-faced villain!’
‘You’re a cockroach cavorting in compost!’

School libraries will want to add this title to the graphic novels collection, and I think I might try asking students to review it, using a similar comic book format to do it.

Horrendo’s Curse was shortlisted for the 2005 Young Readers’ Best Book Awards (YABBBA) in the Fiction for Younger Readers category, and in 2004 for the KOALAS (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards) and the YABBAs (Young Australians Best Book Award – Children’s Choice in the Younger Readers category.

Availability Horrendo's Curse

Fishpond: Horrendo’s Curse

For more information, visit the Allen and Unwin website.

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Book review: Eco Warriors to the Rescue, by Tania McCartney

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 11, 2013

Eco Warriors to the RescueEco Warriors to the Rescue is a jazzy, up-beat picture book with a series of simple messages about caring for the environment.  There’s nothing particularly new in it, but it’s presented in an interesting way.

Primarily visual, the messages ask children

  • not to litter,
  • to tread carefully,
  • to avoid picking native flowers,
  • to keep waterways clean
  • to protect native animals from introduced animals
  • care for native animals and insects
  • plant native trees and shrubs
  • plan development wisely (the example is a cubby house, not a condo !)
  • prevent bushfires
  • reduce pollution.

Bright photos in cheerful colours are superimposed on botanical illustrations identified in end notes at the end of the book.  There’s also a page of flower facts at the back of the book, along with a map of Australia showing state floral emblems, and a native birth plants page.

Eco Warriors to the Rescue would be a useful addition to school libraries, and suitable for units of work about the environment, and the Australian Curriculum Priority Sustainability.

The book mentions colouring-in pages on the Australian National Botanic Gardens website, but it doesn’t give the URL.  Having checked the site out, it doesn’t look very appealing to children.  I would have liked to see some interactive activities, and the site needs to be more kid-friendly, more colourful, and easier to navigate.

Author: Tania McCartney
Title: Eco Warriors to the Rescue
Publisher: National Library of Australia, 2013
ISBN: 9780642277800
Source: review copy courtesy of the NLA.


Fishpond: Eco Warriors to the Rescue!
Or direct from the National Library of Australia

Posted in Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff, Sustainability resources | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Book review: Eco Warriors to the Rescue, by Tania McCartney

Book Review: The Day My Father Became a Bush, by Joke van Leeuwen, translated by Bill Nagelkerke

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 10, 2013

The Day My Father Became a Bush This is a remarkably good, short novel that’s ideal for 11-12 year olds.  It’s recommended reading for parents and teachers who want young people to have some understanding of the refugee experience.

This is the blurb from Fishpond:

Before he becomes a bush, Toda’s father is a pastry chef. He gets up at the crack of dawn to bake twenty different sorts of pastries and three kinds of cake. Until, one day, everything changes. Fighting breaks out in the south and Toda’s father has to go there to defend his country. Luckily he has a manual called ‘What every soldier needs to know’. This tells him how to hide from the enemy by using branches and leaves to disguise himself as a bush. Toda remains in the city with her grandmother but even there it’s no longer safe. She is sent to stay with her mother who lives across the border. Toda’s journey is full of adventure and danger. But she doesn’t give up. She has to find her mother.
… The author has received innumerable awards, including the prestigious Theo Thijssen Prize,  the triennial Dutch State Prize for youth literature.

While the book shows what can and does go wrong – how refugees can get lost, lose their papers, get ripped off by amoral people in positions of power, it also shows the resilience, adaptability and initiative that enables survival.  And it’s not heavy-handed: the author uses Toda’s off-beat sense of humour to show how ridiculous some adults are, and how even when she is hungry and frightened, she can still find comedy in some situations.  Language misunderstandings are rendered with droll humour, and Toda’s confusion about the way she’s expected to behave is often hilarious.

At the Public Welfare Office, a crowd of old women want to adopt her:

She took hold of me and sat me on her lap.
“We’re her,’ she said.
‘Now it’s my turn,’ sais the woman beside her.  She pulled me over and sat me on her lap.  And so it kept going.  They moved me from lap top lap.  Because I was still a bit sleepy, I let them.  Also, I could see that it made them happy.
Every lap was different.  Some were wide and rocked like a boat.  Some were very soft, although you couldn’t sink all the way in because the stomach got in the way.  Some were hard and bony, and there was even one I nearly fell right through.
Once I’d tried out all the laps they put me down again.
‘Now,’ they said.  ‘Who are you going to choose?’
I didn’t know what they meant.  Had this been a ‘best lap’ competition?

Perceptive readers will notice that while Toda is keen to be on her best behaviour at all times, adults don’t seem to worry about this at all.

Highly recommended.

Author: Joke van Leeuwen
Title: The Day My Father Became a Bush
Translated from the Dutch by Bill Nagelkerke
Publisher: Gecko Press, 2013
ISBN: 9781877579165
Source: MPPS School Library


Fishpond: The Day My Father Became a Bush
Book Depository: The Day My Father Became a Bush

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ACER research findings: how the brain learns

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 7, 2013

Every year the ACER (the Australian Council for Education Research) holds a research conference to showcase the latest findings that impact on teaching and learning, and they make the papers available online to people who subscribe to their newsletter. (Here’s the email address if you want to join up).

ACER confThese conferences are often rather dry, but some of the current papers are worth reading, up to a point.

I downloaded these ones from their Research Repository:

There were two more that interested me but only the abstract is available as of today’s date:

What did I glean from these papers?

Professor Westwell’s paper talks about how the proficiencies of Understanding, Problem-solving and Reasoning demanded by Australian Curriculum go beyond knowledge and know-how.  He’s right:  In history, for example, the inclusion of empathy, significance and contestability in the primary curriculum is new.  In the topic of Explorers (Year 4) , for example, students are expected to consider the impact of exploration in the context of First Contact, and to develop an empathetic response by imagining what Europeans and Aborigines thought of each other at that time.  When studying Australia’s military history, primary students can explore contestability by using a resource such as the DVA Indigenous Service to learn about the war service of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders and consider why their service has had so little recognition despite Australia’s obsession with military history.  The point about this, is that brain research shows that to do this students need three ‘core executive function abilities’ which are impulse inhibition, working memory and cognitive flexibility.  Teachers have to help students develop these functions.  Depressingly, Professor Westwell’s research also shows that low SES students ‘have less cognitive capacity to support their day-to-day decision–making processes’ but he reckons that with support better outcomes can be expected for these children.   This optimism sent me off to the papers which appeared to offer practical strategies. 

‘Minds, Brains and Learning Games’ begins by sniping at the ‘parallel world’ of pseudo-neuroscience found in many schools’.  On the basis of a UK survey which showed that graduate trainees held unscientific beliefs about effective teaching, Dr Howard-Jones concludes that these ideas persist when these graduates confront the real world of the school.   This assumption strikes me as a failure of logic, not to mention a failure of university teacher-training in the UK.  So I hope that the rest of what he had to say had more validity.  The paper goes on to tackle the neuroscience of video games.  Research (the details of which you can read for yourself if you’re keen) explains why they’re so engaging, and that ‘the same neural and cognitive processes appear to underlie both the hazard and the educational potential of video games’.   What appears to be relevant to teaching and learning is that students are attracted to games offering reward-uncertainty, that is, they have an element of chance.  So as it turns out, the teachers at my school whose annual action research project is to learn a gaming program called Scratch are exploring how creating learning games of this type may be very effective in the classroom.

More than one of these papers talked about the need for neuroscience to connect with the work of classroom teachers.  Donna Nitschke listed factors which inhibit the dissemination of relevant information:

  • the speed of change in neuroscience
  • ‘professional discipline barriers’ [especially techno-speak in the discipline]
  • neuro-myths caused by over-extrapolation of research findings [a.k.a. ‘don’t mess with my findings’]
  • commercial misapplication of research findings e.g. so-called ‘brain-based education’
  • lack of training for teachers for them to deal with the above, and [as usual]
  • time and financial constraints on teachers.  [She also mentions ‘attitudinal’ constraints on teachers, without indicating what these might be].

Nitschke goes on to mention a program called ‘Being the Best Learner You Can Be’ which uses a games-based format to improve attention, memory, emotional literacy and higher order thinking skills.  It’s learning focussed rather than teaching or curriculum focussed, and is targeted on the executive function skills mentioned above.   Of course it includes improving ‘framing and delivery of curriculum by teachers.’  Google and I couldn’t find out anything about it.

Professor John Pegg’s paper considered the ‘reality of working memory and neural functioning’.   Working memory is what we use for temporary storage of information but it’s more than just short-term memory.   It’s ‘the brain’s ability to hold information in the mind while transforming it or other information.’  The size of working memory doesn’t increase as we improve expertise in a task, but our brains ‘chunk’ information enabling better efficiency. On the other hand the amount of stuff we can store in long-term memory seems unlimited.  Alas, the capacity to retrieve it can decline, as those of us with ageing brains can testify… 

Human intelligence is about ‘stored knowledge in long-term memory’ which we form into neural networks, not ‘long chains of reasoning in working memory’.   We can engage higher-order processing when there’s enough space in working memory to retrieve those networks of info from long-term memory.   The brain is actually designed to forget most data that comes through the senses – what makes data stay put in the brain is practice and rehearsal, and understanding whatever it is in some meaningful way.  So the context of learning is important, and Pegg went on to talk about some ideas that are very familiar to teachers i.e. the need to consider the complexity of the material when planning, how it’s to be presented and what prior learning the child already has.  He also talked about the development of automaticity, focussed practice and rehearsal, and the importance of errors in learning.  While the language in which these findings is expressed is somewhat unfamiliar, not much of this seemed new to me. 

What I did find useful in this paper was the research that shows that it’s better to praise effort than ‘innate intelligence’, [i.e. ‘good effort!’ not ‘clever girl!’]  What happens if we praise cleverness is that students tend to choose more straightforward tasks, and are more stressed by anything that’s a bit hard.  These students tend to downplay the importance of effort and won’t take risks.  But when we encourage students to develop the habit of trying hard on problem-solving tasks, they tend to do better.   There were also two programs mentioned, QuickSmart Numeracy and Literacy, which apparently achieve significant and sustained results.  [All you need is a staffing ratio to facilitate the small group lessons, eh? According to Wikipedia, it involves two students, for three 30 minute lessons a week, over thirty weeks].

John Munro’s paper was very dense with neurological terms about how gifted students learn, and so perhaps I have missed some insights.  What I took from this paper was what I already knew: that gifted learners think differently and (obviously) what’s going on in the brain is different too.   In this conclusion I am conforming to the accusation that ‘it is not clear that the education community is ready or prepared to listen’.  Mea culpa, I fail to see anything new about the statements that gifted students are better at managing and directing their own learning, that they have greater working memory and can process more information, that they can integrate understanding across multiple ‘codes’, and that they can generate intuitive theories about what they’re learning.  We see this every day in our classrooms, and while I know that teachers are not always as good as they should be at identifying gifted students, I don’t think that knowing that these students have ‘enhanced bilateral parietal activation’  is going to improve the situation.  The only interesting information in this paper for me was that people who are gifted in spatial activities tend to have more problems with language-related disorders e.g. dyslexia. 

Maybe I am a little hyper-sensitive, but I detect a lack of respect for teachers in some of the them-and-us language of these papers, and I don’t think that’s helpful at all.

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Learning and teaching | Comments Off on ACER research findings: how the brain learns

Five Leadership Lessons from Furahini Godlike

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 3, 2013

I just came across this inspiring article from a young Aussie teacher in London…

Five Leadership Lessons from Furahini Godlike.

Posted in Learning and teaching | Comments Off on Five Leadership Lessons from Furahini Godlike