Archive for August, 2008

So the Rudd Federal government is going to take away school funding if they under perform. I can’t believe it! It smacks of the UK model where perceived under performing schools are closed down within 18 months if improvement is not shown.

It begs the question, how will this be fairly and equitably measured? How? No one group of students is homogenous and certainly the many schools I work in are diverse and complex. Why apply a punitive model? Why not work on the notion of resourcing professional learning for teachers to drive curriculum improvement? Can’t funding be applied without working from a deficit model?

When I hear reports such as this latest one on funding attached to performance, I immediately get suspicious. This deficit model immediately puts some of our most disadvantaged schools in the firing line which begs the question, does it leave the more advantaged schools off the hook? I know that many disadvantaged schools are the most innovative and as such, are achieving real gains in student learning. The horrible educational cliche “value added” really applies here. But seriously, are you telling me they won’t be compared to the more advantaged schools?

As for the educational revolution, I don’t think so. Perhaps politicians need to go back to school themselves to be reminded of the complex nature of educating young people in today’s society. Oh, and by the way, that “schooling” starts in the early years – just a reminder for those who see education as = secondary only!!

Damn right I’m angry!

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A “shop corner” in a kindergarten classroom has been transformed from an unattractive, unworkable space to a highly functioning, inviting learning space. All because the teacher handed over the problem to the students who designed (see drawings in previous post) , constructed and formulated a new layout with workable routines for the shop corner.

The students in kinder knew what they wanted the shop corner to look like and how they wanted it to work. They bought an incredible amount of knowledge this process – far more than the teacher anticipated!

When I visited the room, the students were quick to explain how they transformed the learning space – without any prompting from me! It became obvious they had changed the shop into a cafe – a very familiar scenario for these children as their local area is famous for it’s cafe culture!!

Ryan demonstrated how he made the “juicer” for the shop by taking me through the design of the juicer, step by step. What a sophisticated process of problem-solving!! When I asked him where he got his ideas from, he told me is family had a juicer at home. In terms of constructing the juicer at school, his commented….

It was quite hard actually!

The children also came up with other ideas for the space:

1. Making curtains out of clear cellophane to make the cafe more inviting

2. Creating a “job roster” on a whiteboard so that they could all take turns in taking on a role e.g. a waitress

3. Designing and writing menus for their cafe

4. Constructing a clock – all shops have a clock!!!!

5. One of the children had the clever idea of making a traffic light sign to indicate “Closed” (red), “Getting ready to close” (amber) and “Open” (green). To them this was more interesting then a conventional Open/Closed sign. Brilliant!

6. Designed and painted placemats for the table – just like in a cafe!

All of these tasks undertaken by the students involved researching, predicting, investigating, problem-solving, decision-making, negotiating, hypothesizing and justifying.

They chose to represent their understandings in multiple ways – through labelled drawings, construction, painting, signs, writing (menus, lists, calenders, labels, signs..) and role play. Above all, this learning was purposeful, was based on a familiar experience (so they could all bring a lot of knowledge to the task) and was highly motivating as they were making decisions about their learning.

This teacher knows that through this learning process, her students are well on the way towards achieving a range of ES1 outcomes. And not one worksheet was needed!!

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I had a great discussion today with Linda, the Kindergarten teacher at Haberfield. She had many questions about the possibilities of changing her current pedagogy to align it more closely with the principles of early learning.

We discussed what was currently working well. This is important as often the very structure or organisation of successful learning can be transferred to new contexts. Linda explained how pleased she was with the taskboard for reading. The children were independent, could work successfully in groups and most importantly they were familiar with the open-ended nature of the tasks. So my question was “How could you transfer this to another learning context or KLA?”

Here are some ideas we touched on.

  • Using a similar taskboard scenario for the HSIE unit of Recycling whereby the children can participate in writing, construction, reading, listening post, computer tasks (as they do in reading) but linking the tasks to Recycling theme
  • Within the Environment unit for Science & Tech, allowing the children’s questions, for instance, “What do you want to find out about…..?” to drive the learning tasks
  • Establishing learning centres for handwriting whereby the students participate in a variety of different learning tasks to develop their fine motor skills e.g. using different media (paintbrushes in water; chalk on bitumen; crayons on large paper; shaving cream on trays; sand boxes) to practice different letter shapes and patterns.
  • Getting the children to redesign the Shop Learning Centre and encouraging them to investiagte different ways to operate the Shop so that all children can learn and participate

Linda is very keen to get started and in fact, had already begun investigating possibilities. What makes a difference during this process is having the opportunity to engage in professional dialogue to tease out ideas, ask questions and process understandings. COLLABORATION IS THE KEY.

Some time later…….

Wow! Linda asked the children in her class to design the Shop corner to improve how it could be used. The children came up with some amazing designs that clearly demonstrated their problem-solving and thinking skills. Brilliant!! When talking to Linda about this learning task, she commented that the children were deeply engaged in composing their diagrams for quite a long time. She particularly noted the children who didn’t usually engage with writing, and how different they were with this task. Some of the best ideas came from the the most reluctant writers! So what’s this telling us about the types of learning tasks we offer students?

The next step for Linda is to decide how to involve the children in taking their ideas forward to actually re-create the Shop Corner.

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Just heard about a great Australian educational website for K-12 teachers called Scootle. It has a vast array of images, videos, audio files, learning objects and other information linked to many educational topics and subjects. It has been updated from the previous Learning Federation site. It is a free site but can only be accessed by having a username/password which can be obtained by contacting Scootle. Just look for the Contact Us link.

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Are we asking the right questions? At the end of Day 1 of the Early Learning course with twenty-one K-2 teachers from Sydney’s Inner West, the predominant question seemed to be

So what is the best way to teach students in K-2?

Fair enough. Often as teachers, we search for the holy grail, or the right answer, the one true way to ensure we are teaching the best way possible….as if there is one approach above all others that works. But it doesn’t quite work that way. As educators we know that there are many approaches that can be used with our students. What does make the difference, is to find out what prior experiences our students have, what level of understanding they have, and for us as teachers to understand how children learn. To truly know the child is the best way for us to be able to plan a program which provides a variety of rich learning experiences that meets their specific needs.

With this in mind, two schools shared what they have discovered works best for their children in Kindergarten. In other words, what type of learning experiences enhance deep learning that is motivating, developmentally appropriate and at the same time, meets existing syllabus outcomes. Total re-design of the learning environment, greater involvement of the children’s voice in negotiating learning, and a re-thinking of the role of the teacher in facilitating, guiding and directing learning, occured at both schools. Top stuff!

Both schools applied the Principles of Early Learning to their particular context/students and consequently their programs looked slightly different. That’s the point. There are many possibilities, depending on the specific student group and their needs. This is the challenge for us as educators. It can be easy to say

Just tell me and I’ll do it!

But if we are to truly find out what works, we have to take risks. Get to know the children. Experiment. Collaborate. Critically reflect on what works and why. Also reflect on what doesn’t work and why not. Ask questions. THINK. I believe the group of twenty-one teachers are up for the challenge. They have a hunger to find out how they can change their teaching practice to best support their students learning.

A bit of advice from the authors of the National Research Council (US) in the book How people learn” (2000)……

Focus on how people learn ….will help teachers move beyond either-or dichotomies…

Can’t wait for Day 2!

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