Archive for March, 2009

376591423_c0b3889fc6_mOK. This is two posts in a row referring to articles in The Sydney Morning Herald. I just can’t help myself!

Finally, a credible academic and teacher, Brian Cambourne, argues the case for

mindfully, not mindlessly teaching phonics.

He puts the phonics debate in context and resists the urge (unlike a certain columnist in the SMH) to sensationalise and misinform readers about the issue.

I urge you to read it. Now! You can also go to the Literacy Educators Coalition website to find out more of what he has to say. Just click on the “information” tab and scroll down the page – a powerpoint presentation elaborating on points made in SMH, can be found here!

(By the way, the Literacy Educators Coalition has other great links and resources. Worth a look!)

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1294684803_ed11352f83_mThis report in the Sydney Morning Herald asks “Are they ready?” meaning at what age are children ready for school. Basically, the findings state that holding  children back an extra year could be detrimental. I am sure some educators will view the findings as somewhat controversial.

However, perhaps the real question should be “Are schools ready?” for the children entering their first year of school regardless of their starting age. As educators, we all know that knowledge of child development  is vital in developing learning that is appropriate for young children. Whatever their starting age.

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2573768746_6c722ff3da_mPart 1 was a post I did last year on the same topic/speaker…..

Where do I start??!!

Yesterday Dr Iram Siraj-Batchford spoke to a group of interested early childhood educators about what does BEST practice look like and HOW do we make our practice the BEST? I could have listened to her speak all day. She was entertaining, informative, provocative, funny, and passionate!

Here’s some of what she had to say……

  • high quality programs in the early years DO have a significant impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds particularly if they attend a preschool with children from mixed socio-economic backgrounds
  • children who attend preschool part-time develop AS WELL as those who attend fulltime (it’s about quality, not quantity)
  • outdoor settings have a significant impact on children’s learning 512532859_cd8fe6ca80_m(hello primary schools spending Rudd government’s building $$$$$!!!)
  • shared sustained thinking where the teacher interacts with a child to extend their ideas, questions, comments….develops a child’s cognitive capacity to a greater extent than modelling and instruction (although she commented that this type of instructional teaching is important)
  • small group FOCUSED learning does count particularly when shared sustained thinking takes place (are you Inner West ESL teachers making the connection to Paul Dufficy’s work on shared sustained talk to develop language??)

Iram spent some time explaining what”good quality” early learning settings looked like. She stated that , among other things, staff had

  • warm, responsive relationships with children;
  • better knowledge of curriculum and child development;
  • engaged children in “shared sustained thinking”
  • involved parents in children’s learning
  • supported children in resolving conflict.

434985492_29320b77a2_mIram also asked some provocative questions. She certainly had my brain ticking over at a rapid rate despite the huge coffee intake I had that morning!

  • How do we know we are ADDING VALUE to young children’s learning?
  • How do we know what we offer children is QUALITY learning?
  • How do we know schools are ready for our children? (my favourite!)
  • What is it about PLAY that helps learning and development?

514017029_3260afea27_mShe also touched on the notion of PLAY and learning. She used the term “playful learning” and elaborated on

  • building on and extending the child’s interests
  • learning as exploratory rather than fixed
  • motivating and challenging children to learn
  • children using and extending their ideas, skills and understanding through play
  • exploring complex ideas through collaborative play
  • the teacher’s role in supporting playful learning.

Iram cautioned that as educators we must have a good understanding of how an adult can extend the learning that a child has initiated, through play.

329212376_c063e158e1_mIram and the following speaker, Prof. of Early Childhood education Collette Tayler from Melbourne University, referred to the importance of

  • child directed play and learning
  • guided play and learning
  • adult led learning.

I could rave on further, but I won’t! I suppose I came away with a lot of questions in response to what I had heard.

  • How does our pedagogy in the primary years reflect the early learning pedagogy that Iram spoke about?
  • Do we really understand the value of play and playful learning in developing children’s thinking and learning?
  • Are we doing enough at the leadership level in developing understanding of early learning pedagogy?
  • Can we rise to the challenge of moving away from a sometimes overly formal teaching/learning practice towards a more child-centred, adult-guided, play-based practice?

Time will tell.

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Nice one, Will.

You gotta hand it to him. Will Richardson knows what he is talking about….

learning first – technology second

AND he is a laugh! I was rivetted by what he had to say at a seminar in Sydney….and the Chatzy online conversation he had going at the same time. Weird…. but good!

I was keenly aware that the online audience thought we were very quiet in response to what Will had to say (Will was also streaming his talk live via mogulus). I don’t know if that is a cultural thing. Are Australians by nature more reserved than their American counterparts? Dunno. Probably.

It was worth noting that a lot of us DID NOT bring a laptop but instead used old technology, notepaper, to jot things down (now that I know about LIVESCRIBE, that might change!!). At our table, we all agreed they were too cumbersome to carry. Besides, I was heading out later to meet friends…..so Will’s point about hand-held devices being the way of the future in connecting us all, certainly hit home!

In fact, after the seminar, I made a quick dash to the Apple store in George St to have a “play” with some of those very devices! Great fun.

I intend to write a brief post about what Will actually had to say – but for now I just wanted to say THANKS WILL!

If you haven’t yet checked out his blog – DO IT NOW, particularly if you are an educator.

scottColleague and techie geek, Scott, hard at work during Will’s presentation. Onya!

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A good read.

1842040675_72e7fd6129_mJust want to share with those interested in working with language learners – young ones in particular – a great book I am reading. A friend in the TEFL industry put me onto it (thanks Clare!).

It’s called Assessing young language learners written by Penny McKay. Don’t judge it by its boring cover. Let me tell you, the content is easy to read and boy, does it pack a punch!

The information is so comprehensive and it is credible because Penny has based it on REAL classrooms and REAL learning contexts both in Australia and the US.

I was drawn to the book because many of our high language needs ESL schools still struggle with the notion of assessment and I was having a chat to some colleagues today about my concerns . Namely the inappropriateness of some assessment tasks our ESL students are required to undertake.

We really need to be asking more questions about the assessment tasks we give our young ESL students. Penny hones in on the good questions to ask. Do students have sufficient language proficiency in English to comprehend the assessment? Does the assessment show their ability in the best possible light? Is the information from the assessment tasks valid? Reliable? Authentic? (Penny really gets down to the nitty-gritty about what these terms actually mean  in the ESL context!!)

Penny’s book really clarifies the issue of what assessment is in the best interests for our ESL students. She looks into current research about assessment of language and gives many practical ideas on USEFUL assessment tasks teachers can employ in the normal routine of teaching and learning.

What I can’t wait to read is the chapter on standardised testing. Boy! If ever a can of worms needed to be opened, it’s that one!

So read it for yourself. It’s not cheap – but I think it is worth every cent.

Love! Love it! Love it!

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2597608152_128a20b1dd_m Andrew Churches poses the following question about engagement in teaching and learning particularly outside the classroom,  and how students love using technology as part of that engagement….BUT…

Are our students allowed to create, collaborate, analyse and review at the same level at school as they are able to do a home?

Good question.

Only last week I was chatting to some passionate teachers at a primary school in Sydney’s south-west. The school is located in a low socio-economic, highly multicultural area. The families and students are very committed to education and learning.

The teachers had actually surveyed their students to find out about the level of access they have at home to technology and they were somewhat surprised by the results. While they had expected some children to have limited access, particularly to computers ( mainly as a result of limited financial circumstances), they were astonished to find out just how many students DO NOT have a computer in the family home. What they did have access to were MP3 players.

I can’t say I was surprised by the survey results. It is a common trend in experienced by many students of some of our most disadvantaged primary schools – well, the ones I work in, anyway!

And this is where I get a bit frustrated…OK a lot frustrated……

Not at the students. Not at the schools who are doing their best with limited resources to provide students with access to technology (despite dodgy bandwidth etc etc). Certainly not, when at the school I just mentioned, the focus is on quality teaching and learning with technology playing a support role to enhance this learning.

Na. I get frustrated at a system level when all our talk is based on the assumption that students are already engaging with technology, particularly via computers, and that as teachers, we need to get better informed and create learning experiences tapping into this resource for learning. I agree. To a point.

But. Can. We. First. Get. It. Right.

Not all students have access to technology. Not all schools are well equipped.

At the above mentioned school, we – teachers and myself – were still waiting after 5-10 minutes for the Internet to start after we logged on to create blogs for learning……..no wonder some teachers give up! So we explored how we may be able to utilise MP3 players to assist the learning process instead!

So my point??!! What is our responsibility as a system in getting the distribution of technology more even? We seem to be doing a lot to address this in our Secondary sector, with the laptop rollout funded by the Rudd government. Good-o! Now how about a bit of focus on our primary schools!

By the way, while I am excited about technology, it’s more about the learning. Not the other way around. Sigh.

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Sounds good to me!

This is a comment Maxine McKew made in her address to the Early Childhood Australia Biennial Conference, last October. It caught my attention because there is a strong focus on early learning in the work I do with teachers and leadership teams in our primary schools.

She also mentions the national (Australian) draft Early Learning Framework which has been developed  in the last 12-18 months. It’s an important document, and can I say, it’s about time we had a cohesive national strategy for early learning! Particularly as we should be doing more to ensure ALL children get the best possible start in learning.


Here’s what else Maxine had to say….

The concept of an early years learning framework also attracted a great deal of interest at the forums, along with some uncertainty around what is actually intended.

There was wholesale agreement to the concept of a framework that captures the importance and philosophy behind early years learning, and recognises the social and emotional development of children.

There was also general consensus that structured learning can and should take place across all early childhood settings, but that this must be play-based learning.

Hear! Hear! Play-based learning AND structure can co-exist!!

268677812_533cacc371_mAlso, for those of us who work in primary schools, recognition of social and emotional well-being can be easily tossed aside due to the more academic pursuits that we feel compelled to focus on, particularly in response to “high stakes” testing!

I suppose if, like Maxine, you believe….

children are at the centre of this for all of us…

then the challenge is to reflect this in our daily teaching practice, starting with re-structuring our learning environments.

(I came across this address by Maxine by subscribing to the monthly  ECA Web Watch. Great way to keep in touch with the latest developments in Early Childhood!)


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