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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 the ‘Learning and teaching’ Category

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 »

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

Aboriginal Perspectives Resources (with thanks to Anita Heiss)

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 27, 2013

As teachers know, the new Australian Curriculum includes three cross-curriculum ‘priorities’, one of which is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.  One of the science topics includes Year 2 students identifying toys from different cultures that use the forces of push or pull, and this made me wonder about traditional Aboriginal games and whether there was a concept of a ‘toy’ in nomadic lifestyles.  I’ve read a few memoirs and a quite a few children’s books by ATSI authors but I don’t recall any of them referring to this topic at all.

My Australian Story: Who am I?Keen to include Aboriginal perspectives on this topic if possible, I contacted Dr Anita Heiss who is Adjunct Professor at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, at the University of Technology, Sydney.  Many teachers will also know her as the author of My Australian Story: Who am I?

Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal LiteratureBut she also co-edited the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature which I recommend as an introduction to the diversity of indigenous writing  – see my review at ANZ LitLovers  – and she is also the author of these entertaining novels: Manhattan Dreaming, Not Meeting Mr Right, Avoiding Mr Right, and Paris Dreaming.  These popular novels are about sharing the highs and lows of being an urban Aboriginal woman but pitched at a mainstream audience.  Read more about the rationale for these ‘chick-lit’ novels here.

Manhattan Dreaming Not Meeting Mr Right Avoiding Mr Right Paris Dreaming

Am I Black Enough for You?Her most recent book is Am I Black Enough for You? which as the book blurb says is a rejoinder to racist remarks made about ‘being too ‘fair-skinned’ to be an Australian Aboriginal. Such accusations led to  Anita’s involvement in one of the most important and sensational Australian legal decisions of the 21st-century when she joined others in charging a newspaper columnist with breaching the Racial Discrimination Act. He was found guilty, and the repercussions continue. This book is on my TBR and I will be reviewing it on the ANZ LitLovers blog when I’ve read it.

Anyway, Anita generously gave her time to reply to my query with some suggested sites:

Yulunga, Traditional Indigenous Games is an ‘activity resource of over 100 traditional Indigenous games created to provide all Australians with an opportunity to learn about, appreciate and experience aspects of Indigenous culture’.   It’s available as a CD-ROM.  Order it here.

There are tips and advice about teachers self-educating about indigenous history and culture at The Critical Classroom.   It’s not about doing formal professional development (though that’s a good idea if you can access it), it’s about reading indigenous literature, listening to indigenous music, using social media and viewing indigenous music. I’d add checking out indigenous art wherever you can access it, and if you’re in Melbourne, keeping an eye out for relevant events at the Wheeler Centre or the NGV at Federation Square.   If you’re keen to read indigenous literature, you might want to join in Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ LitLovers, I’m hosting it there each year during NAIDOC Week.  (If you don’t know where to begin, I’ve also reviewed some lovely books about indigenous art, mostly published by Wakefield Press, and UQP who sponsor the David Unaipon Award and are great supporters of indigenous writing have also sent me some interesting memoirs.  Check the Indigenous Writing Category in the ANZ LitLovers RHS menu to see what’s available there.)

The Critical Classroom has all kinds of useful resources including this game: Birrguu Matya: A Wiradjuri board game.   Links for where to buy it are here and if you ‘like’ The Critical Classroom at Facebook you can keep in touch with all kinds of stuff.

If you know of any additional resources or bloggers who’re working on this too, please share what you know in the comments below.

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Australian Curriculum, Indigenous Teaching Resources, Learning and teaching, Resources to share | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Aboriginal Perspectives Resources (with thanks to Anita Heiss)

Book Review: Out of the Well, by Lisa Eskinazi

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 3, 2012

Out of the Well, subtitled My Battle with School Bullying and Severe Depression is an important little book. I came across it when by chance I was introduced to the author at a theatre night a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to look it up and see what it was about.

Over the getting-to-know you conversation that occurs when you meet someone for the first time, Lisa and I had shared a laugh as well our first names, and then I asked her the usual ‘What do you do?’ She explained that she wasn’t able to work because she had severe depression, and she went on to tell me that she had had a terrible time being bullied at school, and had sued the Department of Education.

I remembered this: I’d read about this in the newspaper when it happened, and the succesful lawsuit triggered a wholesale review of the Department’s Student Wellbeing policies which included a requirement that all schools develop new policies under strict guidelines. There was a very sharp deadline, and there was no allowance for Term 4 being the busiest time of the year. So a colleague and I worked on our new Student Engagement Policy over the remaining weeks of the term so that it would be ready for implementation in the new school year, and we had a Professional Development Day at my school to introduce it to staff.

For my school there were no major changes. We already had a research-based anti-bullying program and we had unambiguous school rules with clear-cut consequences for infractions. Every teacher responds immediately to reports of bullying in exactly the same way, and in a series of lessons that is taught every year and then reinforced throughout the year, children learn what bullying is; when, how and who to ask for help; and most importantly that every student bystander has a responsibility to report bullying. We had had this program in place for years, and although there are incidents from time to time, my school’s zero tolerance for bullying makes it a safe place for our students to learn.

But Lisa Eskinazi was not so fortunate. In this courageous memoir, she explains:

I didn’t write this book to complain or to receive sympathy. I wrote it in an attempt to educate the public on the issues of homelessness, mental illness and victimization’.

While the psychiatrist who testified in her court case and Lisa herself acknowledge that she lacked certain self-help skills (such as bully-blocking techniques), the reason why her suit was successful was because the school knew about the bullying and had discipline and welfare policies – but it didn’t implement them. Not even when after months of hateful verbal attacks, she was knocked unconscious to the ground. Lisa asked for help at home and school and didn’t get it. The school, and the individual teachers who worked there, failed in their duty of care. In the end this student – who had been a high achiever in primary school – left school early. She spiralled into severe mental illness, homelessness, and a brief period of prostitution.

It’s not a long book, only 120-odd pages. I think it should be essential reading for every teacher, and every parent. Because no one should have to endure relentless verbal and physical abuse, not in any circumstances. All of us need to work together to develop a culture of zero-tolerance for bullying, in any context, and this little book is a brave attempt to speak up for the victims of it.

Author: Lisa Eskinazi
Title: Out of the Well
Publisher: Melbourne Books, 2008
ISBN: 9781877096860
Source: Kingston Library

Fishpond: Out of the Well: My Battle with School Bullying and Severe Depression

This review is cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers.

To get help contact:

Beyond Blue
Kids Helpline

Posted in Book Reviews, Learning and teaching | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Book Review: Out of the Well, by Lisa Eskinazi

Australian Curriculum English Literature Recommended Book List

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 29, 2011

Australian Children’s Literature is recognised around the world as being rather special, and so with the new Australian Curriculum taking shape, it’s timely to set up a list of recommended titles with which to implement the Literature component of the English curriculum. 

I’ve set up a page where, though comments from visitors to this blog, a list of titles recommended for primary levels Foundation to Year 6, can emerge and be easily updated.  While for me,  literary and aesthetic qualities of the book are a pre-condition for inclusion in this list, I am hoping that suggestions will include links to other areas of the curriculum where they are relevant, and will support the three priorities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait histories and cultures; Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia and Sustainability. 

I am especially keen to hear about titles which originate from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia. 

Please visit the page and contribute your suggestions by making a comment.

Thanks to Jo Sherrin from the Northern Territory for the idea!

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Australian Curriculum, Learning and teaching, Recommended books | 2 Comments »

Australian Curriculum Units (update)

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 4, 2011

If you have already downloaded the existing Year 1 & 2 Info Lit template, (see the Goodies to Share page) you will need to download Version 2.  I had forgotten to make a section for Aboriginal Perspectives Across the Curriculum.

Shake a LegI am now well into planning a nice little Australian Curriculum unit for Years 1 & 2, called Scary Creatures.  It has a Science focus i.e. what body parts do scary creatures use to attack or to defend themselves.  (That’s what reminded me to add the Aboriginal Perspectives section, because I’m using Shake a Leg by Boori Monty Pryer and Jan Ormerod to show how Aboriginal Communities used dance to teach their children to stay away from dangerous creatures).

I’m tweaking the planned sequence of activities as I teach each lesson and hope to have it available for download here before too long.

At the same time, I’m reviewing the units I taught in term 1 and (where I can) converting them into an Australian Curriculum unit.  They’ll be available before long too.

What are other teachers doing?  Is anyone else playing around with the new curriculum??

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Learning and teaching, Resources to share, School Library Units of Work | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Australian Curriculum units – progress at last!

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 1, 2011

Ok, it’s time to stop being a perfectionist!  I have finally got a template (more or less) the way I want it.  Go to Goodies to Share in the menu – and PLEASE! give me some feedback in Comments about what you like and what you would like improved.

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Learning and teaching, Planning templates, Resources to share, School Library Units of Work | Tagged: | Comments Off on Australian Curriculum units – progress at last!

Australian Curriculum: Literature units of work

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 20, 2011

Just an update so that readers of this blog know what I’m working on. (Let’s not reinvent any wheels! Let’s not duplicate each other’s work!)

This term I am updating my existing Term 1 literature units so that they include relevant elements of the new Australian Curriculum.

So the learning focuses include

  • SLAV library skills
  • VELS Thinking Processes; Interpersonal Development and Personal Learning
  • Australian Curriculum English Literature  (and maybe also Language and Literacy)

Assessment includes

  • SLAV library skills
  • VELS Thinking Processes; Interpersonal Development and Personal Learning outcomes
  • Australian Curriculum English Literature  (and maybe also Language and Literacy) elaborations (which is the silly word they have chosen for outcomes)

The units I am working on are

  • Aesop’s Fables (Preps)
  • Traditional Tales (fairy tales) (Years 1 & 2)
  • Author Study: Hans Christian Andersen (Years 3 & 4)
  • Traditional Tales (myths & legends) Years 5 & 6 – Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo

Once I have tweaked the planning templates to my satisfaction you will be able to download them as well, but getting these right is what’s taking the time.   

I hope to have these four units – and the templates – available for download some time during the Easter holidays.

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Learning and teaching, Resources to share | Tagged: , | 9 Comments »

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School | Brain Rules |

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 18, 2010


 Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina looks like a very useful reference for anyone interested in how brains learn. 

Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and he has very generously shared some of the principles in an interactive presentation online.  Open the link below, watch the video and then scroll down to the 12 rules and explore each one, checking out the graphs and videos as you go.  He’s got some challenging criticisms of how schools make learning more difficult but he’s got the science on his side!

via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School | Brain Rules |.

PS The book is being released in October.

Posted in Learning and teaching, Resources to share | Tagged: | Comments Off on Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School | Brain Rules |