Archive for October, 2008

 A-mazing! After listening to Paul Dufficy today, I feel satisfied that there are educators out there whose action matches their word (see previous post “Do as I say, Not as I do”.) Paul, an ESL teacher AND academic at Sydney University,  has written a wonderfully enlightening book called “Designing learning for diverse classrooms.” Great stuff!

So we invited Paul to speak to our ESL K-12 teachers about designing challenging learning experiences for our ESL students. What an inspiration he turned out to be!

I couldn’t help but link his key ideas to the ones raised at the reggio early learning conference I attended last week. While the target group of students was different (ESL as opposed to early learners), the notion of what constitutes effective learning, was similar. Here’s what I mean. 

  • Paul began with asking us to articulate out theory of learning as this determines how we teach
  • Reggio facilitators did the same but asked us to think about our image of the child; image of learning; image of knowledge; and our image of the teacher. This determines how we teach.
  • Paul elaborated on models of learning in particular socioculturalist view highlighting the importance of scaffolding, the inquiry approach and interacting with others – likewise with early learning.
  • He talked about 4 key principles to navigate learning with students – challenge; handover; engagement (not the same as “busy work”) and Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky). Ditto early learning!!
  • Paul stressed the significance of asking the question What do children need to think about? This same notion of thinking, and expressing this through “100 languages” is vital in the pedagogical approach of Reggio.
  • He also identified how critical a quality learning environment is for learning, where relationship building, high expectations, self-regulation and trust are paramount. Same with early learning.

But the BIGGEST and LOUDEST point Paul made concerned “substantive talk.” Giving children space to ask questions. To think aloud. To respond to questions that have no defined answer. To extent their thinking via talk scaffolded by the teacher. To struggle with ideas. For teachers to DECREASE asking questions that have a predetermined answer.

Now that’s what I call learning!

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Here are some interesting ideas I gleaned from attending an early learning conference last week. I had to do a bit of sifting because I struggled with the facilitators way of managing adult learning. It was very much a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”. Note to self: don’t do this with the teachers I work with!

  • Children are not shaped by experience BUT SHAPE IT.
  • “Live life in radical amazement”. (Abraham Joshua Heschel) Love it.
  • As teachers, are we asking the right questions? Probably not. That’s learning.
  • Concept of “100 languages” (Malaguzzi) is a strategy for THINKING not an avenue for artistic expression. Finally, I get it.
  • Just as we have an image of the child, we also need to have an image of the teacher, an image of knowledge, an image of learning. This will determine how we teach.
  • Who is the learner and who is the teacher? It’s a question worth asking.

Of course this is not necessarily new. But seeing it through a different lense is. When I heard a teacher from St Leonard’s school in Melbourne describe what learning takes place in her setting, I listened in awe. Not just because the school is set in hectares of parkland, but because of the stimulating, challenging and creative learning that takes place, for the teachers and children. Bravo!

Finally, I will never look at handbags in the same way again. My colleagues who attended the conference will understand. I am still laughing.

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An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald reports that the National Curriculum is “going back” to the teaching of grammar and phonics as part of the new guidelines for teaching English across Australia. It It also claims that the teaching of “whole language” has been responsible for student’s not be able to attain basic reading skills. Sorry? Have any of these people been in a classroom in the last decade??

Any educator can tell you that the teaching of reading incorporates a variety of strategies depending on the needs and context of the students being taught. It is never a case of teaching reading via phonics only or whole language only. What rubbish! Luke and Freebody’s research in Queensland into the teaching of literacy, specifically reading, found ample evidence demonstrating this.

The current Englsih K-6 syllabus mandated by the Board of Studies in NSW since the early ’90’s, has a K-6 Scope & Sequence for the teaching of grammar in context. There is also a comprehensive overview of the teaching of phonological skills in the spelling section of the syllabus.

The primary teachers that I work with are very competent in teaching students about how the English language works (grammar) in meaningful and relevant ways. Admittedly, not all teachers initially feel confident in teaching grammar. However through projects like the Language Features of Text types for ESL Learners (Catholic Education Office, Sydney) many students and teachers have a well developed meta-language they use to talk about how English works. And they enjoy learning about language because learning is interactive, meaningful and fun!

So where’s this going-back-to-grammar-phonics-because-it-is missing coming from??

The issue is NOT that phonics or grammar is not taught. It is more about how grammar and phonics are taught. Being an experienced primary educator, I can tell you that phonics worksheets and “a letter a week” is largely ineffective. Same with grammar. What IS effective is teaching students about the English language in context and incorporating grammar and phonics in all English practices.

Oh, and will the day ever come when the media will get it right about “whole language”? If you really want to get the right information about about this issue, go to the Literacy Coalition’s website.

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This is essential viewing. First Australians documentary on SBS TV starts this Sunday. The series also has a comprehensive website, a valuable resource for anyone wanting to find out more about Australia’s history, from an indigenous perspective. As the doco makers say, this series is for all Australians. As a teacher, I can see how important this resource is for educators. Great stuff!

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “Black history reclaimed – smh.com.au“, posted with vodpod

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This is a great little video by a bunch of primary kids who show us how we can take small steps to limit damage to our environment. It’s funny, entertaining and best of all, informative. Loved it!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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