Archive for category school

Reframing Change

  • Why do some people embrace change quickly, while others are slower to make changes to their practices or perspectives?
  • What comfort (and convenience) is there in sticking with the known, the familiar, the expected?
  • Can leaders of change persuade people who are slow, and even resistant to change, through enthusiasm alone?
  • Is it enough to lead by example?

I want to suggest that, as educational leaders, if we want to help people come to terms with change and embrace it, then we need to recognise and validate their desire to stick with ‘the known’.  Roger Pryor’s latest post makes some excellent points about ‘leading from behind’ and developing the leadership capacity of others.  I think this is one of the significant hurdles – just as we find in our classrooms it is sometimes necessary to hang back while the students discover things for themselves, people can be empowered by discovering their capacity to change.  Recognising that people are resisting change because they feel disempowered helps us to employ methods that give power back.  This is a win-win solution.

But what other barriers are there to change that could similarly be ‘diagnosed’ and therefore turned around?

When a teacher tells me that they don’t want to use any online teaching tools because they are ‘too tired’ or ‘too busy’, one reaction I feel is frustration.  Does this teacher think that I don’t get tired?  That I am not busy??  I manage to find time to change my practice because I see it as a high priority.

The problem with this line of thinking is twofold.  Firstly, I’m expecting someone else to have the same energy levels as me, without really questioning whether they do.  Secondly, I’m asking someone to accept a shift to online teaching as a priority, when perhaps their professional priorities lie elsewhere.  Perhaps they are really struggling with face-to-face classroom management.  Perhaps they are consumed by essay marking.

So, one way forward is to find ways to align our priorities.

By this I don’t mean that other teachers should change their priorities to match mine!  But, I might set aside my initial frustration to consider ways in which I can create professional learning that satisfies both of our priorities.  One teacher I worked with gained confidence in marking essays after I showed her how to use track changes and commenting in Word…this also served the purpose of increasing her confidence with technology.  Our priorities were aligned!

However is it also possible that sometimes, just sometimes, we are expecting too much?  We also need to recognise that people only have so much energy to give.

Another way forward then, is to find ways of giving people the energy to change.

Teacher burnout is an increasingly widespread phenomenon.  And yet, when I expect others to adopt new practices on the grounds that ‘I was able to do it’, I am refusing to validate them as a human being outside of the world of work.  This might fly in the corporate world, but in the education system I would like to think this is outside of our philosophical remit.

One way that I generate energy to learn more about technology and the online world is to engage in digital practices that nourish me, personally.  For me it’s sharing my (budding) artwork, making digital collages, reading with my Kindle, and connecting with friends in a purely social capacity via Facebook.  I get professional nourishment from a lot of places too, but I’m not talking about that.

For some people getting a thirst for technology comes when they make their first Skype call, or make photo albums on iPhoto.  For many people, the social connection provided by Facebook has been the big thing to ‘draw them in’ and increase their digital literacy (one of the reasons why, although Facebook has turned evil, I have a real problem with the tech elite bagging it out unreservedly).

Fun generates energy.  Fun lures people into engagement.

So, if the diagnosis is a lack of energy, it might be worthwhile exploring how to restore people’s capacity to engage through play.

These are just a couple of example that I have been forming up. Aligning (not replacing) priorities, and restoring energy through fun and play.

As we continue to make new inroads with people who have typically resisted change, I really believe it is time to develop more sophisticated models than ‘lead by example’.  That was phase one. Now we are getting a critical mass of people out there willing to lead by example…where can we move to next to stimulate change and support the changers?


Nine Visions for Citizens and Soldiers

Official footage of students from Macquarie Fields High School reading their poetic response to Governer Lachlan Macquarie’s inaugural (1810) speech:

It is really great to finally see this footage. Sean and Natalie read so well! Well done to the entire ‘Live Poet’s Society’ at MFHS, and a big shout out to Lachlan and the Red Room Company for providing the school with this opportunity. Thanks guys!


Leave a comment

Parents – I invoke thy name!

(alternatively titled Well whaddya know, the moratorium paid off.)

In the wake of the moratorium on NAPLAN testing imposed by the AEU, claims about ‘what parents want’ were bandied around left, right and centre.

A quick look at the website for the P&C Federation in NSW directs you to a statement that made their position clear:

The Federation of Parents and Citizens Association strongly opposes the Australian Education Union’s ban on teachers conducting the NAPLAN testing to take place from 11th to the 13th May this year.

BINGO! But wait…read on:

Despite the Ministers assurances to the contrary, we see no evidence of a constructive and useful dialogue between the Government and the Teaching Unions. Our position has always been that the Government needs to be proactive in addressing the concerns of parents and teachers in how NAPLAN data is being used and presented to the public.

Parents as an integral part of the education process and as a stakeholder in educational outcomes demand to be included in future discussions.

So let me get this straight…

It is fine and dandy for the government, and the DET leadership, and the media, to invoke the desires of parents when it suits them i.e. to convince teachers to run NAPLAN.

But as far as the desire of parents to be included in decision making around the construction of the MySchool website…well, let’s not take things too far now.

The expectations and rights of parents as stakeholders in education are all to frequently invoked in such a selective manner.

Today’s decision by the AEU to lift the moratorium on NAPLAN testing follows:

an offer by the Education Minister Julia Gillard to form a working party of educational experts, including representatives of the AEU, to provide advice on the use of student performance data and other indicators of school effectiveness.

As an English teacher who values NAPLAN as a dignostic tool, who values the rights of parents as stakeholders, and who is also a staunch opponent of use of NAPLAN data on the MySchool website, I am relieved.

Parents and teachers belong on the same side of the fence, and the way in which politicians and media pundits were setting us against each other was atrocious.

The AEU said from the get-go that the ban would be lifted if the Federal government engaged in authentic consultation with teachers over the MySchool website and took measures to prevent the construction of league tables.

And so it has.

Thus endeth the NAPLAN fiasco of 2010.



The nature of the beast

NAPLAN. MySchool. Data. Accountability. Planning.

Roger is bang on when he says that there are so many conundra in education.

But why? Is this really a result of ‘rank-and-file’ teachers unjustly mistrusting ‘the boss class’? Perhaps, in part.

But the problem we face in overcoming this is not as black-and-white as it seems. Historically schools have evolved to serve multiple functions in society, and it is these often competing functions that school leaders, edu-crats and politicians are faced with negotiating every day. This is a tricky business, and people will not always agree on what is being prioritised.

In my PhD research on the English curriculum I have explored Hunter’s genealogy of the major functions of schooling, and used this as a lens to reflect on the contradictions and challenges that are embedded in the HSC English syllabus. Hunter (1993) outlines the following functions of mass schooling in Australia:

  • Pastoral: Children should be given caring and humane environments in school in which to grow and develop
  • Skilling: Schools have a significant role in the production of a skilled and competent workforce
  • Regulative: Schools transmit forms of orderliness and control to an otherwise disorderly populace
  • Human-capital: Investment of effort and money in schools should directly enhance economic productivity
  • Individual expression: Schooling is properly the context in which individuals can learn to explore, develop, and express their personal goals and aspirations
  • Cultural-heritage: People, especially young people, should be introduced to the ways of thinking and acting that have existed and been valued over time – cherished art works, and disciplines of scientific inquiry
  • Political: Schools produce a citizenry dedicated to the preferred political principles of the society
  • Hunter rejects the notion that schools have ever served, or even aimed to serve, a singular, unified function in society. Rather, the various functions described above are contested and emphasised more or less at different points in history based on the political, cultural and economic imperatives of the time.

    The idea that schools serve different functions is not controversial. What is important to recognise, however, is the importance of each of these functions, and the need to treat them as interrelated. Our role as educators cannot be to simply ‘back’ one function over another – for example, promoting individual expression and pastoral care while decrying the goals of skills and human capital development. Although these functions historically have come into competition, it is essential to recognise the important role that bureaucratic structures play in safeguarding equality within a social welfare state such as Australia.

    In regards to NAPLAN, it is not the case that politicians want to crush individual expression in the pursuit of higher literacy standards. It is also not the case that teachers don’t care about skills development and resent regulative goals of ‘the boss class’ as a matter of principle.

    What is worth considering, however, is this: what political, cultural and economic imperatives are reflected in the priorities set by the bureaucracy?

    Despite reservations about standardised literacy and numeracy testing, teachers ultimately were asked to support ELLA/SNAP, and later NAPLAN, in good faith. The tests were framed as a diagnostic tool. Schools were dissuaded from ‘cramming’ for the tests, as this would negate its diagnostic capacity. We were promised that these tests were an example of schools fulfilling an essential bureaucratic function – ensuring that all students had equal access to diagnosis of their skills, and that resources could be allocated efficiently to areas of need.

    The introduction of the MySchool website, however, betrays a warped set of priorities…the political, cultural and economic imperatives of publishing NAPLAN data as a means of measuring school success over-prioritises the regulative function of schooling. Orderliness and control emerge as the ultimate product when systems are put in place that construct and solidify school hierarchies, encouraging a consumer culture in schools where the discourse of ‘parent choice’ trumps the discourse of ‘school community building’.

    I hate the MySchool website. Not because I don’t want parents to have access to information about schools, but because I believe that the information that is currently privileged does pose a destructive force to schooling functions that I hold dear. I believe that comparing schools based on test scores poses a serious neglect of the pastoral function of schooling – it is difficult to foster a caring and humane environment in school in which to grow and develop when your school is labelled as ‘failing’, and parents of ‘good’ students start shopping elsewhere. Likewise, in successful schools, staying on top of the ‘market’ can lead to undue pressure to succeed in external testing, and a neglect of student welfare and broader curriculum goals.

    I fully support schools and teachers who will join the moratorium and refuse to deliver the NAPLAN test this year. Not because I don’t see the value of NAPLAN, but because as educators who oppose harmful government policy it is the only card we have to play in a system that gives teachers virtually no voice in the policy and structures they will have to work within.

    It is a shame that teachers who oppose the MySchool website, and are prepared to take action despite political pressure, are often painted as ‘data-haters’, ‘parent-haters’ and ‘boss-haters’. They are none of these things. They are just people who feel out-and-out ignored by their political leaders and think that something bigger is at stake than missing a year of data.

    , ,


    The conversation continueth…

    I love it when Hiba says a few quick things!

    I encourage you to read Hiba’s comment, and Troy and Melissa’s, in response to my last post. It is so important IMHO for us to be talking frankly, reflectively and supportively about the difficulties and fears that we/others have in regards to using technology in our teaching.  Ignoring the problems will not make them go away!

    I totally agree Hiba – using technology for the sake of it does not lead to effective teaching. And I think you’re right – this is bound to be the thing that Shaun has experienced. And yes, ‘too much of anything IS too much’. But…who decides what is too much?

    “Just a few quick things” from me 😉

    The end of your comment Hiba is very telling – you love and can see a clear use for OHPs, digital stories, twitter and youtube. Ok, but what about other teachers who don’t like these things? When they are told they ‘have to’ use them, won’t they have the same feelings as you expressed about other technology?
    So: (1) teachers will best use what they know about and can see a use for, and (like all other pedagogical tools) each teacher will have their own style and ‘favourites’. I think this is OK, and a natural product of how we work.

    What do you do with teachers who are refusing/reluctant to learn new things? New tools? New ways of doing things? Is it good enough to just say ‘blogging is not a preferred teaching tool of mine’? Well, perhaps…but is it good enough to go wider than this and say ‘online learning is not a preferred teaching tool of mine.’?   Er, NO.   IMO this is tantamount to saying ‘I just don’t like doing group work’. Unlucky mate. Because:
    (2) there are things that we know, for sure, things that are like fully researched and proven and everything about how collaborative learning enhances the learning experience, and about how online tools can facilitate this better than pen and paper work. This is not a matter of opinion, or personal style (though whether you use a wiki or a blog or a Ning or Moodle etc. certainly is).

    I hear you about being too immersed in technology. I am a screen junkie, and have to constantly remind myself that not everyone is. I DO prefer to mark essays using track changes and comments in Word (it takes more time for me to negotiate the margins of someone’s handwritten essay than it does for me to just TYPE), but that’s just me. I don’t think that everyone needs to work this way. But I do think, at some point, you have a (dare I say) duty to expose students to this method of editing. This is especially important because:
    (3) the distinction between ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ has been helpful, but is is not that black and white. Fact: not all kids have the kind of access to technology that you describe yourself as having – this is a class/SES/cultural issues that we MUST remain aware of. Another Fact: just because you use a lot of technology doesn’t mean that you can think critically about it, or apply it to new knowledge. Case in point – students’ PowerPoint presentations are generally REALLY AWFUL until they are taught how to apply skills of good public speaking, visual presentation, summarising, metalanguage/metathinking etc. How do you explain this phenomenon if it is true that ‘all young people already know about technology’?  There’s a reason why English teachers teach novels, and don’t just say ‘go read it at home kids’.

    Back to the concept of ‘too much’. You know what else I think we use too much of? Workbooks. And writing notes off the board. And teacher talk. And homework (when it is not project and passion based, which I do like). But these practices are never questioned, never challenged, never stopped because people find them comfortable and familiar. And no-one notices when they are overdone because they are part of the traditional landscape of schooling, and because (most importantly I think) because this is how parents, and politicians, were taught and what they expect to see from kids’ classrooms.

    My Head Teacher will get me in trouble if my kids don’t have a workbook, but no-one else gets in trouble for not having a blog!

    So: (4) Let’s make sure we’re applying the ‘too much is too much’ rule across the board, and not just as an excuse/a reason for neglecting the new. If what we mean is ‘we haven’t had enough PD to use this right’ then by all means say that. But there are some things that would be good to drop out of our current practice to make room for the new.

    One thing that we know about teaching is that no matter what you are taught to do, as a teacher you will instinctively model your practice on the teaching you received at school.  Fighting against this instinct takes concentration, and learning about new practices and tools takes a lot of work. Because of this, teachers who are embracing technology are feeling increasingly overloaded and burnt out this is the real problem that needs managing.  In Hiba’s post I felt a real sense of fatigue, and I know how she feels because I have felt that way too.  We teachers have to look after ourselves personally and adjust our level of change commitment as our energy ebbs and flows.  People who yell and scream and try and force everyone to use technology all lesson, every lesson need to be more sensitive to change fatigue…but in return, teachers need to ‘man up’ when the energy does flow, and explore these new tools for refining their craft.

    Without understanding and effort on both sides, the student will be the one who misses out.


    HSC English: Standard or Advanced?

    Does your school offer both Standard and Advanced English courses for the HSC?  How about ESL? Extension courses?  If not – why not?

    This is a question that has been debated over the past couple of days via email between members of the NSW English Teachers’ Association.

    One member asked: Do you think it is wise to only offer the Advanced course to students? His school leaders have been advised that this will lead to higher ATAR scores for students at the school.

    Here are some of the responses that were given via email in support of offering a diverse range of courses:

    “The emotional pressure on students to learn (=compete and achieve) at an Advanced level was very detrimental in the schools I observed [that had decided to take away the option for Standard English].  Students’ self concept was very low for the bottom achievers in the Advanced stream, where in schools that also run Standard these kids might still perform lower, but they do so with the knowledge that they are in a different, less ‘academic’ course.  Or, they find themselves at the top of the Standard course, and their self concept goes up.  Offering Advanced-only also limits your capacity to differentiate learning for students, and it builds a distorted sense of entitlement and expectation among parents.”

    “I have been discouraging some students who want to do Advanced.  Last year when I arrived there seenmed to be some students who really should have taken Standard.  Advanced can be soul destroying for them and can impede the progress of others.”

    “I was also put under pressure [to increase] value-added – they argue that it is better for everyone to do Advanced because scaling boosts poor Advanced marks above good Standard marks and there may be an infinitesimally better uni ranking as a result. Whether this is actually the case or not is difficult to accurately gauge – there seems to be a lot of numerical flim-flam in the value-adding business. What is clear, however, is that students who struggle in Advanced and then withdraw from discussions and activities they feel are beyond them engage much more readily in Standard classes and find themselves enjoying English – heaven forfend!”

    “I remember this type of pressure being applied at a previous school of mine – with the result of good Standard students being forced to do Advanced.  That type of auditor-driven statistical analysis does not take into account the different kind of intellectual demands required to be a success in Advanced.  At my current school, we have scaled back our Advanced classes because there were a number of students who were not suited to the contextual and researching demands of the Advanced syllabus – they were also not motivated readers”

    Comments like these about student welfare were reinforced by teachers who had marked HSC English scripts and saw the outcome at the other end:

    “Anyone who has marked Advanced will know there are many students out there who really should not have sat the course and would have been better off in Standard, where they would have had a much better opportunity to show what they knew and understood.”

    “From the point of view of Advanced HSC marking, as many of you will have experienced, it is becoming more frequent to see that “poor child” who should have been advised to do Standard, often in the middle of a bundle of very competent students.”

    Some teachers were in favour of pushing the Advanced course, and gave a mixture of pedagogical and statistical reasons for this:

    “There is an ongoing debate about this in schools around mine. The pressure in schools is to achieve better than state mean and this can be easily achieved by encouraging students to do Standard rather than Advanced… I believe this is anti educational and think any student who is interested should have the opportunity to do the more interesting and challenging Advanced course. In terms of value added, this does us no favours [to push students into the Standard course]. Have a look at the difference in the curves for Advanced and Standard on the value added graph. Again I could easily make the actual course results look better by encouraging more students to do Standard and indeed have at times been pressured to do so. If you run the Advanced students against the overall English Value Added curve you get a different picture, however.”

    “Our students do seem to get a strong sense of achievement from doing Advanced and actually engage well with texts which have not much relationship to their lives and experience. I agree that the Standard course is difficult since it is so language based and that is what students have trouble with…We don’t not offer Standard because it is too easy, but because our students can and do gain a great deal from the Advanced course and they value it. Or is it their parents? It just seems a pity that it is much more difficult to get very high marks in Standard than Advanced but it is historic. Remember why we brought in the common strand in the first place?”

    Other teachers had arguments that spoke to the benefits of or need for the Standard course:

    “What we have done is to present the challenges of the Advanced course to Year 10, outlining exactly the demands.  We have also challenged Advanced students in Year 11 to consider seriously the demands of the course.  This has meant many more “borderline” students have chosen Standard, either at the end of Year 10 or the end of the Preliminary course.  As a result, we have had excellent Standard results from students who either deliberately chose to do Standard, or changed at the end of Preliminary when they struggled in the Advanced.  The end result in those cases were very happy students and parents.”

    “We certainly could not omit Standard from our curriculum, and fortunately, we are also able to maintain a more academic focus by running one advanced class. I hope that by doing that, we are meeting the diverse learning needs of the type of students who attend a school such as ours. I know this is not the same issue – but spare a thought for the large number of country schools who are struggling to offer courses and to do that, both Standard and Advanced are offered in the same room, sometimes with both 11 and 12 together as well. That is the only way their wide range of learning needs (for just a small number) can be met – either that, or Advanced is not offered at all.”

    The role of school administrators in balancing the need for high results against student welfare and quality learning was also raised:

    “Perhaps some school administrators need to be reminded of such determiners for course choice as “needs, interests and abilities of students”- not to mention their health and well-being. When there is a significant percentage of boarders these factors are particularly critical.”

    “I think the whole debate is disgusting because no-one is talking about what we think students should know; i.e. education. Instead the whole debate seems to be about what puts the school in a better light statistically. Let’s worry about what our students should learn and where they are at, not what looks better for our school. How has this abominable shift in what teachers are thinking happened? Well we all know the answer to that: and the answer is not the National Curriculum.”

    “It has been interesting to see two distinct problems emerge from this question and also dispiriting that in both cases it is all about perceived numerical and statistical success, with anti-educational ‘solutions’ imposed on English faculties from above.”

    The debate itself was in fact surprising to some:

    “Coming from an area of the state that is maybe too far in the bush, I have never realised that this would be an issue. I know that some schools, for very good reasons such as being selective, have none or very few Standard students, and that is just a given, but I would have thought that the majority of schools in the state would not fall into that category. I guess that might be blissful lack of knowledge or awareness on my part!”

    I’d (we all!) be interested to hear how other schools and English faculties are approaching this question.

    When I put the question out to Twitter this afternoon, this is what tweeple had to say:

    “I think English should be an elective course. If they haven’t got it by year 10 why go further?”

    “Really? [that not all states have mandatory English] so only NSW is dumb enough to think senior english is for all.”

    “I think students should be allowed to go with what interests them – as long as they understand the possible implications 4 ATAR”

    “NO! [to only offering Advanced]…particularly for gender focused classes, does the fact 45 marks are the same Area Of Study matter?”

    “Imagine a male, studying Chem, bio, physics, a couple of Maths subjects, Standard English is perfect…”

    “What about the kids doing 2 VET, ITP, PE, Industrial tech, do they need standard English?”

    “Eng so much more than writing essays 4 exams. Lets push boundaries so studs fall in love with English”

    “I know pressure of getting good results! Would like to think we can make results gr8 via love of learning. Combine both 4 synergy”

    How do you decide what HSC Engish courses to run and who gets to do them??

    , ,


    Macquarie Poem Project


    After working with The Red Room Company last year, Macquarie Fields High School is again working with poet Lachlan Brown.  This time the project goes outside the Toilet Doors and into the Sydney Conservatorium, as students dabble in a bit of history and consider their namesake through the poetic lens.

    The students are writing a poem in response to Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s First Speech in the Colony.   This will be read at the unveiling of a new statue of Macquarie, which commemorates 200 years since his governing began.  How exciting!

    You can read more about Lachlan’s workshops with the Macquarie Fields ‘Live Poets Society’ (facilitated by @imeldajudgeat the Red Room Company blog.  It is interesting to see how different students have thought about the themes in the Macquarie Poetry Project, and I think Lachlan’s workshop reflections also provide a great account of poetry pedagogy.

    As a poetry teacher, the power of collaboration with working poets in these projects has been a an incredible experience.  One of the most important things I learned from Lachlan was how to get more out of poetry by focussing in, taking it slow, encouraging personal interpretation and wonderment, and giving students time to write (which may sound obvious, but English lessons are so darn short!)

    And the students have been awestruck by the experience of engaging in authentic discussion and receiving feedback from a real, live poet.  Projects like these really do increase the sense of connectedness that students have with the curriculum, as they participate in intense thinking about words, about language work, and about the role of creativity in understanding the world around them.  Students in my Year 10 class were also begging to learn more about the technical aspects of language so they could improve their poems (back to basics…I think not).

    To read more about Lachlan Macquarie I recommend a brief speech given earlier this year by NSW Governor Marie Bashir.  Macquarie’s endeavours to emancipate convicts and promote their employment and equal and fair treatment are a legacy I believe we should strive to uphold, and his support of education and poetry speak especially to my English-teaching soul!  I can’t wait to see the poem created for the unveiling of the bicentenary statue 🙂



    How to inspire passion #edchat

    Working from home has made it easier to participate in the weekly #edchat on Twitter – the topic today was how to discover student passion.

    An interesting chat I had with @joe_bower and @monk51295 was about the use of grades in assessing student learning, and how they work to kill student passion.  Joe makes an excellent argument on his blog for abolishing grading – a form of assessment he believes is obsolete and archaic.  I couldn’t agree more.

    Grading student work using reductive labels such as an A-E scale, or a mark out of 10 or 20, just doesn’t do the job that anyone wants it to.  Parents (well, most of them) seem to think they want this kind of measure, and yet when it comes to parent-teacher conference evening the first question I am usually asked is along the lines of “so, what does a ‘C’ mean?”

    In NSW Australia it is now mandatory for schools to report to parents using an ‘easy to understand’, ‘jargon free’ A-E scale.  The purpose?  To allow teachers to report student academic achievements at any point in time using clear standards.  So, what does a ‘C’ mean?  Well, it means that the student’s achievement is sound; that they “have a sound knowledge and understanding of the main areas of content and has achieved an adequate level of competence in the processes and skills.”  (Parent: “so, what does ‘achieved an adequate level of competence’ mean??”…and here we are, back at square one…)

    NSW schools have the option of using the grade labels (A-E), or they can use the corresponding descriptors:

    • A = ‘Outstanding’
    • B = ‘High’
    • C = ‘Sound’
    • D = ‘Basic’
    • E = ‘Limited’

    I was absolutely dismayed when I started teaching at my school to find they had wholly and solely adopted the A-E grade system, even though the use of the letter grades wasn’t mandatory.  While I recognise that faux-descriptions like ‘High’ or ‘Basic’ aren’t much better, at least they are somewhat descriptive.  The ideological baggage alone attached to A-E grades is enough to poison parents’ understanding of student reports – using these terms in my experience transports parents right back into their own school experience, and instills an instictive kind of dread.  Parents who were ‘C’ students in school now apologise for their ‘average-ness’ in semester interviews.  And parents who were ‘A’ students seem puzzled that their spawn have not exhibited their genetically inherited excellence.

    The problem with this is, as an English teacher, I truly believe that the way in which we engage with texts in todays classrooms is so much more complex than in the past, that comparing a ‘B’ grade from the 1970s to a ‘B’ grade in a NSW English classroom today is like comparing apples to oranges.  Yet it is this historical understanding of grades that we draw on when we offer them to parents as a ‘clear standard’.

    In my teaching I have taken a pragmatic approach to grading student work, and I tend to use a combination of grading individual outcomes on a tick-a-box scale, following this with comments.  My faculty insists that I allocate a grade to any common assessment tasks, but for most assessments I can withhold this from students and just record it in my markbook.  Here is an example of the feedback sheet I use in our Year 7 Debating assessment task – syllabus outcomes are rephrased to connect with what students have learned to do, and an overall grade can easily be calculated by looking at which column got the bulk of the ticks:

    debating task assessment marking criteria (download PDF – feel free to use!)

    One thing I know I don’t do enough of is getting students to explicitly reflect on their progress, and this is something I worked on a lot last year.  In a post on his leadership blog @dan__rockwell explains that a sense of making progress is the greatest motivator of all.  Unlike grades (which act as ‘carrot and stick’ motivators), giving students a sense that they are making progress can really inspire them to learn and move forward.  A practice I would like to start in my classes is to give students the assessment feedback sheet at the start of the unit and get them to fill it in with what they would get before participating in the lessons.  They could then compare this to my eventual feedback (and/or their own self-assessment using the same sheet) to guage their progress.

    It seems obvious to me that this is more valuable than knowing you got a ‘C’.

    Joe suggests in his blog that when an organization has some policy or rule that simply desn’t allow you to always to the right thing, then professional acts of subversion are called upon.  Refusing to grade student work is one way of subverting the archaic A-E grade system in NSW.  Refusing to conduct NAPLAN exams this year in light of their use in the MySchool website would be another example (but I wonder how many of us will put our money where our mouths are on that one?)



    Super Teachers

    Many of my teaching friends have criticised the move by the Department of Education and Training to introduce the new role of Highly Accomplished Teacher in NSW schools.

    On face value I could see why: the potential to alienate teachers by only elevating a select few (an eventual total of 100 across the state) to the ranks of HAT is huge.  And the salary for these teachers – $98,000 – is higher than the salary for a KLA Head Teacher, and just under that of a Deputy Principal.  Weird.

    However, as my school was once of the first to gain one of these positions, I am here to testify.

    It’s easy to be upset and feel unappreciated because someone who used to sit next to you in the faculty staffroom is all of a sudden getting paid up to an extra 50% (and for a smaller teaching load at that!)  But you have to remember that these positions are different to that of an rank-and-file teacher.  Curriculum Head Teachers get paid more for doing less teaching too, but we are used to that – we understand that their role is different to ours.  And they sure do earn their crust; on days when HSC, School Certificate and NAPLAN data are released there is no way I would trade my job for theirs.  And as for sitting around in boring Executive meetings planning school targets and discussion policy issues…well, most teachers would rather not do that too.

    Is the position of HAT any different?

    Why shouldn’t someone get paid more for doing a harder job?

    I suspect the issue is that many teachers currently don’t believe that the HAT role is very difficult.  But let’s consider what the HAT in my school is taking on as we blog:

    • Classroom observation and team teaching with beginning teachers, and later with each faculty in turn
    • Developing the resources and in-school PD for refining the literacy and numeracy focus across all KLAs
    • Establishing research partnerships with local universities (and later co-ordinating and leading the school side of the action research)
    • Liasing with university education faculties to build formal mentoring structures for the influx of pre-service teachers that our school will now enjoy
    • Leading the school in its new role as Centre for Excellence by building relationships with surrounding public schools to ensure the quality teaching practices that our school is refining are spread far and wide to benefit the wider community
    • And still teaching!  Albeit a much smaller load.

    Sounds like schools just got someone in who can do the cool stuff that we teachers never get time to do. Aren’t you excited about having fellow teachers, rather than admintrators and bureacrats, helping you to develop your teaching quality?

    Of course, the success of someone in this role will depend on whether they are the right person for the job.  But this is true of all promotions.  In my school the teacher who got the HAT role was an English teacher already in the school.  She was my mentor in my second year of teaching, and she is one of the warmest, most patient, most hard working, professional and reflective teachers could ever hope to meet.  You can read Luisa’s statement on why she teaches on our school leadership blog.

    Personally, I am excited by the idea that there is a career in schools now that I can look forward to.  I have always wanted to be a teacher AND a researcher, but other than working crazy part-time roles in both, there was nothing on the horizon.

    The other benefit of the HAT scheme is that teachers who love teaching in public schools and who are really, really good at it don’t have to end up lost to administration roles if they want to earn a higher salary.  I love teaching, and I am commited to teaching in public schools.  I don’t want to be a Principal.  Or a Deputy Principal.  I’m not even sure I want to be a Head Teacher.

    But I sure would like to be a HAT 🙂



    Down with written exams!

    I want to marry this opinion piece and have its babies.

    In UK paper The Independent yesterday, Brandon Robshaw writes that It’s time to ditch written exams for students and go digital. I couldn’t agree more, if for no other reason than:

    It seems obvious, but is seldom remarked, that students are being obliged to do something that they never do or need to do in real life: write with a pen for two or three hours non-stop.

    To be honest, I don’t even care if exams don’t go digital…but putting an end to pen-and-paper exams must surely become a priority as the skills of extended handwriting and unaided recall of extensive amounts of facts go the way of the dinosaurs.

    Robshaw argues that a computerised examination system would not only “be far kinder to students, it would also be far more useful, requiring them to employ a skill that is used outside the exam hall.”  Amen to that. The most salient point for me, however, is not the usual evangelising about digital learning.  In my experience, while many teachers can be convinced of the benefits of using digital technologies, the reality of poor funding and resources at both the school and system level make this utopia seem like a distant dream.  Or, at best, an unholy uphill battle and minefield of ‘teething problems’ that we’re just too tired to contemplate.

    No, for me the point that really needs to drive this campaign is that as extended handwritten work becomes more and more antiquated, the continued use of pen-and-paper exams becomes an increasing barrier to learning, as well as a significant equity issue.  Fact:

    no one writes at their best in an unfamiliar medium.

    How can we, in good conscience, continue to set our students up for failure in this way?  If we know that students are not going to do their best in a written exam, why do we persist with them?  Especially when the impact is going to be felt most heavily by students with already low literacy skills.  It’s no exaggeration to say that

    Change can’t come too soon. The present system is akin to forcing candidates to write on slates with chalk, or chip away at stone tablets with chisels.

    Thanks to @principalspage for the link to this article.  It made my day!