RSS Feed
  1. Naive Idealist

    8 April 2015 by shartley

    I’m starting to realise I’m a naïve idealist.  I want to teach in a way that benefits every single one of my students.  I want all my students to learn and achieve as well as they possibly can.  I want all my students to enjoy learning, embrace their positive passions and have a fulfilling life.  That’s all.

    I started studying my Masters of Education just for the piece of paper at the end but fell in love with the course with the very first two subjects, Curriculum and Pedagogy.  I was lucky enough to be well versed in the language of current thinking in these areas.  However, what kept biting me was the amount of rhetoric I was inclined to use without evidence.  Now, I’m so into what I have been learning for the last year and a half I want to just keep on going.

    It felt like I started my PhD this year but technically that’s a long way off yet.  When I finish my M.Ed., I enter the second year of a Masters of Research and then commence my PhD at the end of that.  These last two subjects of my M.Ed. are proving a bit of a stumbling block though.  One, a Literature Review, is meant to help me gain some background knowledge on the area I’m going to cover in my PhD but my grand ideas of writing about some of the big concepts in education keeps being narrowed down and down to a manageable size.  Of course I want my studies to be manageable but I also want to make a big difference.  I don’t think it’s an ego thing but instead I am driven by trying to find what’s the best we, as teachers, can do to help our students.  My other subject is the one I wrote about in my last two posts, an Introduction to Educational Research (EDCN800).

    Only three of the usual crowd of twelve or so turned up for EDCN800 last night, yet I came away more confused than when I arrived and wondered if it had been worth it.  Before arriving, I had a clear idea of what I was going to do for the next task (design a qualitative research study) and had received 3/3 for my proposal (my only 3/3 for our first task) but alas, no more.  You see, I made the mistake of making it an authentic task, something I could see myself doing in real life but really, all we have to do is go through the motions.  My idealism protested somewhat.  I want my learning to be meaningful and practical during the process of doing it.  I’m not just after the marks or even learning this now for some research I might do in the future; as I learn about how to design qualitative research, I want to be actually, in reality, authentically, designing qualitative research.

    However, a piece I have to write within three weeks for a uni assignment is not reality, particularly when talking about designing qualitative research; it normally takes much longer than that.  The literature review I am writing within one semester cannot contain every single article that I need to read to produce a doctorate thesis.  I am struggling with these limitations!!!

    How much more then, are we struggling in high schools to make learning authentic?  How can we help our students think they have something to contribute to the world when we have such short times on any one task, any one topic?  Some say school isn’t real life, that it is a false, socially constructed institution and that we should just accept that it is a mere addendum on real life.  How can we make secondary school learning authentic and meaningful if we can’t make it about the real world?  Do I ask too much?

    PS

    Perhaps my next post will need to be about the benefits of learning for the accumulation of knowledge rather than for practical application because of course, I see a place for that too in our curriculum.  For instance, I know many teachers and students who love learning about Ancient History for the sake of mere interest.  I love novels for what they say about the human condition.

    PPS

    My literature review has morphed into the question:

    What do we know about the connection between ‘assessment for learning’ and the self-regulation of students in secondary social sciences?

    My qualitative research design will be probably based on the question:

    How have teachers responded to change?


  2. Unit evaluation – composing a questionnaire

    5 April 2015 by shartley

    As part of my Masters of Education at Macquarie University I am studying EDCN800 Introduction to Educational Research.  Yesterday’s blog post lamented the frustrations I was having with the statistical aspects of the course. Today I was looking at the construction of questionnaires and the exercise set was basically the writing of some questions for evaluating a unit of study.  The thinking behind these questions is a little influenced by John Hattie’s Visible Learning (2009) which is currently guiding a research project with which I am involved, but mainly they come from an accumulation of experience and study of a wide range of material.  The areas I’ve noted and the questions themselves are not even close to being exhaustive lists. I actually hope to later develop this into a real questionnaire to evaluate my own courses.  I’d be interested in knowing what you would include.

    Aim: Evaluating a unit of study within the Masters of Education program.

    Research participants: Students undertaking the unit of study

    Key areas:

    The learning environment

    • Online
      • Ease of understanding/following procedure and instruction
      • Allows for communication and interaction with instructor and peers
      • Feels inclusive of all (gender, disabilities, internal/external students, etc)
    • On campus
      • Inviting environment (temperature, lighting, seating comfort, etc)
      • Allows for communication and interaction with instructor and peers
      • Feels inclusive of all (gender, disabilities, internal/external students, etc)

     

    The curriculum

    • Knowledge, understanding and skills
      • Made clear
      • Covers a range of lower-order and higher-order thinking skills
      • Challenging but achievable
    • Relevant
      • Builds on prior knowledge
      • Practical application to workplace and/or experience
      • Includes contemporary issues
    • Assessment
      • Both the assessment and related criteria are easy to understand
      • Aligns with goals for knowledge, understanding and skills
      • Offers choice
      • Fair, equitable and achievable (task and weighting)
      • Provides opportunity for feedback during the process
    • Transparent
      • Purpose of the learning is clear
      • All elements/tasks of the course are clear and upfront
      • What lies ahead in the course is clear
      • Timing is clear (module lengths, due dates, etc)

     

    The teacher

    • Knowledgeable
      • Course content
      • Student needs
      • Teaching methods
      • Contemporary context
    • Communication
      • Approachable/personable
      • Quality feedback
      • Clear in expectations
    • Strategies
      • Variety
      • Engaging
      • Motivates
      • Relevant
      • Easy to follow/do
      • Involves collaboration (at times)
    • Flexible in approach
      • Adapts to the learning needs of students
      • Adapts to changing circumstances

     

    The impact

    • Students know and understand more and can do more as a result of the course
    • Students are engaged, interested and/or enjoy the course
    • Students increase their desire to learn
    • Students obtain a sense of achievement from completing the course

     

    Examples of research questions to be included in a questionnaire conducted at the conclusion of a unit of study.

    The learning environment

    To assess the experience of the student in using the online page I would include these questions:

    The online course page was easy to navigate.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The online course page clearly presented the unit’s requirements.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The online course page supported collaborative learning.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    To conclude the online environment section I would ask an overarching question such as:

    How satisfied were you with the online environment in this unit of study?

    • Very dissatisfied
    • Dissatisfied
    • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
    • Satisfied
    • Very satisfied

     

    Knowledge, understanding and skills

    To assess the experience of the student’s learning process I would include these questions:

    The course outcomes were easy to understand.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The course was challenging.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The course extended my understanding of the topic.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The course helped me to think more deeply about the topic.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    To conclude the knowledge, understanding and skills section I would ask an overarching question such as:

    How satisfied were you with what you learned in this unit of study?

    • Very dissatisfied
    • Dissatisfied
    • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
    • Satisfied
    • Very satisfied

     

    Assessment

    To assess the student’s experience of assessment I would include these questions:

    The assessment requirements were easy to understand.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The assessment criteria was easy to understand.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The assessment criteria matched the assessment requirements.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The assessment requirements were challenging.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The assessment process extended my understanding of the topic.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The assessment process included helpful feedback before final submission.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree
    • Don’t know

     

    The assessment process was fair for all students.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree
    • Don’t know

     

     To conclude the assessment section I would ask an overarching question (or two) such as:

    How satisfied were you with how assessment was marked in this unit of study?

    • Very dissatisfied
    • Dissatisfied
    • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
    • Satisfied
    • Very satisfied

     

    How satisfied were you with the process of completing assessment in this unit of study?

    • Very dissatisfied
    • Dissatisfied
    • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
    • Satisfied
    • Very satisfied

     

    Communication

    To assess the student’s experience of the communication process I would include these questions:

     The teacher was easy to understand.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

     The teacher provided clear expectations.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

    The teacher provided helpful feedback.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree
    • Not applicable

     

    The teacher was approachable.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree
    • Not applicable

     

    The teacher provided timely responses to questions asked.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree
    • Not applicable

     

    To conclude the communication section I would ask an overarching question such as:

    How satisfied were you with how the teacher communicated in this unit of study?

    • Very dissatisfied
    • Dissatisfied
    • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
    • Satisfied
    • Very satisfied

     

    The impact

    To assess the impact of the unit of study I would include these questions:

    I know and understand more about this topic area as a result of completing this unit of study.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

     I found this unit of study interesting.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

     I want to learn more about this topic area.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

     I obtained a sense of achievement from completing this unit of study.

    • Strongly disagree
    • Disagree
    • Neutral
    • Agree
    • Strongly agree

     

     To conclude this section I would ask an overarching question such as:

    How satisfied were you with what you learned in this unit of study?

    • Very dissatisfied
    • Dissatisfied
    • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
    • Satisfied
    • Very satisfied

     

    Construction of the Questionnaire

    These questions were designed to align with what I thought was most important for assessing a unit of study.

    They were written to be easily understood (“natural and familiar language” with “clear, precise and relatively short items”, Johnson & Christensen 2014, p.193) and allow for an appropriate range of options.

    To keep the questions easy to follow I used a fully anchored scale for all questions and there were only two styles of rating scales: (1) Agreement – for students to assess the elements of the course (2) Satisfaction – for students to assess the impact of the course on themselves in a broader and more personal sense.

    On occasion an option of “Don’t know” or “Not applicable” was added to allow for students who had not experienced that particular aspect of the course.

    The number of points were kept to five to assess students’ ambivalence and avoid irritating participants by forcing a stance.

    The wording was kept consistent where possible between sections, such as asking if the course/assessment/convenor were easy to understand, to allow for direct comparisons between the elements being researched.

    I believe I have avoided leading or loaded questions although at times I was tempted to add an adjective or two which would have broken this principle.

     

     

    REFERENCES

    Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement.  London: Routledge.

    Johnson, R. and Christensen, L. (2014). Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches. (5th Edition). Thousand Oaks California: Sage.


  3. Research

    4 April 2015 by shartley

    20150404-220801.jpg

    Image source: author’s own textbook

    I’m currently studying EDCN800 Introduction to Educational Research at Macquarie University.  It is the only compulsory subject in my course but I put it off to last because it seemed so dry, and well, boring.  I have my regrets, however, since it would have been quite useful to know what I should be doing before I submitted abstracts on behalf of my team to international conferences.  When we were accepted to these conferences I had to write academic level articles on the basis of haphazard and amateurish research.  One of these articles was for a peer-reviewed journal and one of the two peers who assessed the paper slammed it for not being written in the acceptable academic format.  I had avoided the more academic format because I didn’t want to pretend that the research was formally conducted.  I have now resubmitted the piece into a more acceptable format but it still awaits final approval.

    More recently, I have been trying to support a friend who has been designing real proper research under the guidance of a university professor.  The professor’s critiquing of the attempts to write a research question and plan the research methods was a painful process but the frustration was worth it in the end because I think there is a very valuable research project currently underway.  As I do this course I can, in retrospect, see more clearly what was required and if I had completed this subject before this year it might have been a much less painful process.  Now, as I study the ethics of research I wonder how much more should be done to cover ethical considerations in my friend’s research.  It is also giving me more depth to my knowledge of research methods for when I teach Society and Culture.

    In the first semester of my Masters of Education I chose one subject (curriculum) because a friend was also doing it and another subject because I felt knowledgeable in that area (pedagogy).  I had enrolled in the course just so I could obtain the piece of paper and letters to look good on my CV but within a couple of weeks of participating in these two subjects I was enjoying myself immensely and did quite well as a result.  However, the one aspect that I was continually criticised about was the negligible evidence to support my (soapbox) statements.  I have improved a lot in this area since then.

    Now as I study EDCN800 I expect high achievement from myself but I’m not succeeding. I’m engaged in the subject because of the afore-mentioned application but despite being quite numeracy literate I struggle with the statistical concepts and analysis of data.  I only received 65% for the first of five assignments.  Today I battled with the concepts of reliability and validity with all their different coefficient measurements.  The concepts in themselves are fine but when I have to apply them to a technical academic article it becomes all muddled up and difficult to navigate.  Not only do I need to understand these concepts for EDCN800 but I am also writing a literature review for EDCN806 which requires an examination of the reliability and validity of the articles I am including in the review.  It is all driving me insane and I question my ambition to complete a PhD down the track.  As a result I’m feeling a fair bit of empathy with my students at the moment.

    Anyway, that’s enough complaining, I need to attack a question about evaluations using numerical ratings and then write some of my own questionnaire items to assess student experience in studying the Masters of Education.  It is so much easier to help my students design their research for their Personal Interest Projects (PIPs) in HSC Society and Culture than to do it myself at a university level.  But here I go…

    Stay tuned.


  4. Sorry

    3 April 2015 by shartley

    Apparently I have hurt some people with my comments on Twitter and in blog posts.  The main problem stems from when I say “At my school…” and follow it with something negative.  When I looked back at my blog posts (some now hidden) I found they were usually about a mini journey that ends positively but I suppose it can look like I’m disrespecting my school.  There are many aspects of my school I love but like every school, it isn’t perfect.  Sometimes my blog posts celebrate successes, other times they mull over issues I see, and funny enough, these issues are sometimes in my school.

    A conversation on Twitter, rather than a blog post, has caused the most grief.  A question was put out on Twitter about what makes a good teacher.  Somebody responded that being a mum made a good teacher.  I said that wasn’t necessarily so and supported the statement by saying there were examples in my school.  This is what has caused offence.  To be exact, the tweet in reply was, “I don’t agree. There are some really good mums at my school who aren’t very good teachers. It’s just a job.”  I was asked by a colleague that since I was willing to put the comment in a public place online, would I be willing to put in on the staff noticeboard.  This question was posed rhetorically so I didn’t respond at the time, but I’ve been thinking about it.  I reckon if I started a conversation with something like “Do you think being a mum makes someone a good teacher?” that within minutes various teachers around the school would be named in both a positive and negative light.  My tweet wasn’t an announcement, it was part of a conversation.  Yet, it struck a few raw nerves and for that I am sorry.  The people upset about it are probably not the subject of my tweet and are probably guessing incorrectly as to who I was talking about but that’s not the point; I have caused this consternation and speculation, and for that I am sorry.  If I’m not prepared to name the people or talk to them directly about it, then I shouldn’t have put it in the public realm.  It’s like my attention being drawn to this issue in the first place because it was reported by three people to someone further up the hierarchy.  It feels bad that they couldn’t talk to me directly about it, bar one, after they knew it had been discussed with me at an official level.  It also feels like I’m being stalked on Twitter which is creepy.

    Although I am tempted to pull up stumps altogether, instead I am going to try to stop referring to “my school” in my tweets and blog posts.  In the interest of fairness and authenticity, it will also mean I will stop talking about it in a positive way too.  It will be interesting to see how much it limits what I say online.  Since I started my Masters I’ve become more conscious of unsupported sweeping statements and thus I avoid those too.  I love Twitter for its open conversations and sharing of ideas but obviously I have been too free and easy with what I say.  I am all about constantly improving the teaching and learning process and making the teaching profession truly professional but in doing so have strayed into being unprofessional myself.  Sorry.

     


  5. Voice

    9 March 2015 by shartley

    Today is International Women’s Day.  It is a chance for women to have a voice so I thought I better use mine today too.  I am tired of women being silenced and many examples can be found just flicking through the articles around today and with my own recent experiences.

    In my Facebook feed there has been numerous articles on theme.  My favourite has been Annabel Crabb’s article about being a bad feminist, demonstrating the contradictions and quandaries involved in labelling oneself as a feminist (Crabb 2015).  Crabb’s article was prompted by a book authored by Roxane Gay, which I now have to buy.

    In another article, Penny Jane Burke wrote about the lose/lose situation women face when fighting for representation in male dominated hierarchies:

    Women are repeatedly blamed for their own under-representation, in terms of their assumed low aspirations and/or low confidence. On the other hand, the collective strength of women expressed through feminism is also seen as a problem, with continual innuendos about feminism leading to the “emasculation of men”. (Burke 2015)

    Today I also read about criticism of Tara Moss for having overly glamorous holiday snaps (Hornery 2015) and another woman criticised and condemned as obese for changing her carefully filtered and styled photos to more natural photos because it showed her as not so skinny (Grey 2015).

    As a teenager I remember listening to the lyrics of Luka by Suzanne Vega.  It was a rude awakening to domestic violence in the world.    Not much has changed in the 28 intervening years.  Social media has helped to give a stronger voice to the protests but now Tony Abbott uses his voice to announce a $30m awareness campaign for domestic violence not long after slashing $100m to services that actually helped the victims of domestic violence (Freedman 2015).  Meanwhile the Salvation Army quickly gathered together a clever campaign of its own based on a black and blue dress that a week earlier became the favoured internet image of the day (Visentin 2015).  Clever tricks are required because otherwise the victim’s voice may not be heard.

    I have seen so often, too often, women be quietened, whether it be directly like a female Lebanese news anchor being told to shut up, making news and celebrated today for the rare silencing of her attacker by turning off his microphone (Champion 2015) or the constant haranguing of Julia Gillard in terms of what she wore and through plain misogynist abuse (Summers 2012) to the extent that any positive comments were drowned out by a cheap shot like Germaine Greer’s comments on Q&A (Goldsworthy 2013).

    Speaking of Q&A, I stopped watching it a while back because I was continually seeing women being quietened by voice and body language by the men on the show that I now prefer to watch in a secondary manner via Twitter where I can enjoy the outrage expressed by the people I follow.

    As a female teacher in a predominantly male school it often feels that the female voice is hushed.  The hierarchy has been overwhelmingly male at both the schools in which I’ve been employed and thus there is little room for a woman’s opinion but also with male students there can be an issue.  It might be thought that the authority of a teacher would have some sway, and usually it does, but some boys know how to use their masculinity to intimidate in a way that male teachers often don’t understand, such as blocking a path, standing too close, standing over, a sexual swagger, a tone of mockery when the words are right but everything else screams disrespect.  Elements of this behaviour occur for male teachers too but it is different with women.  Thankfully I have hardly experienced this in the last few years; age has its advantages.

    The male voice is generally deeper and louder than a woman’s voice and has gained respect for being this way over the centuries, or always.  I have often been talked over by men but my speech lessons as a child sometimes pay off and I project myself as well as I can to be heard.  It doesn’t always work and I don’t always feel brave enough.  It was only in the last few months a man waved a big finger in my face, just a couple of centimetres from my nose, because he didn’t like what I was saying.  Pure intimidation.  Men are good at talking down to women and often they don’t even know they’re doing it, which is why ‘mansplain’ is Macquarie Dictionary’s word of the year (Gray 2015).  I’ve seen and experienced when women are promoted that the men feel the need to explain to women how to do their job whereas they don’t do the same for their fellow man in exactly the same promotional position.  A friend of mine, a data analyst, works in a male-dominated industry and feels subjected to mansplaining on a daily basis.

    This is one of the reasons I like social media, it gives me a voice.  I’ve seen the stats and know that not many people read this blog but at least I’ve been able to express myself, uninterrupted.  But I’ve also seen the horrendous trolling that has occurred on social media and am particularly horrified at the way women protesting violence in video games have been treated.  Thankfully for me, Twitter has connected me with strong women prepared to label themselves as feminists and to speak against misogyny and slowly I’m becoming braver to speak up about it too.  We have been silenced for long enough.


  6. 28 Minutes

    1 March 2015 by shartley

    I was keen when I started #28daysof writing, meaning I was to write for 28 minutes each of the 28 days of February.   I managed 16 posts during the month.  I plan to do the final 12 over this month but we will see how that goes.  The lack of daily posts was partly because I was genuinely too busy on some days but on other days it was just tiredness and exhaustion of, well, work and life.  Sometimes I can be obsessive about things and I wanted to be about #28daysofwriting but sanity prevailed.

    I was thinking about which 28 minutes of my particularly busy days would or could I give up.  It takes approximately 28 minutes for me to shower, dress and generally make myself presentable each morning.  I think that is necessary.

    I take about 28 minutes to drive to and from school each day (around 33 mins to school and 23 minutes to home).  I could try to obtain a job at a closer school.  My daughter goes to the closest school to my house and takes, yep, about 28 minutes to walk there.  I wouldn’t drive it.

    I generally arrive at school with about 28 minutes before the first class of the day to give myself time to gather my thoughts and equipment.  I’m on first period every day except Fridays.  I want to keep this time to ground myself each day.

    At the moment I spend approximately 28 minutes a day attempting to de-flea the dog with a fine-tooth comb.  That I would like to sacrifice for the greater good of blog posting., if only it didn’t leave my dog in discomfort and my house flooded with fleas.

    I also thought about all the other ambitions I have that could be covered with 28 minutes each day.  I want to read for pleasure, something I don’t do during term.  Is that more important than blogging?  Probably.  Possibly.

    I’d like to exercise each day, but currently that can’t involve being upright for long since I wrecked my feet at the start of the summer holidays with an overly enthusiastic start to an exercise regime.  Swimming involves a drive so that requires a commitment of over an hour, too much on a weekday during uni semester.

    I would like 28 minutes each day to sit down and do homework with my 15 year old son.  We have committed an hour to this on Tuesdays so the pressure isn’t too much on either of us.

    I’d like to cook more healthy food for dinner each night but while I’m at uni I leave the cooking to my husband which while is quite good, would benefit from more vegetables.

    I’d like to be more in touch with family and friends.  I haven’t talked to my Mum for a few weeks now and yesterday my nephew turned 8 years old and I haven’t sent him anything or even called.

    If I was a lady of leisure I would play the piano regularly and perhaps go back to do the 4th grade exam I should have done when I was about 13 years old.

    I used to be able to survive on 4-5 hours sleep regularly.  In my first year of teaching this was extremely common.  I sometimes do it now but it only lasts a few days.  I average about 6 hours sleep but probably should have 7.  I resent sleep because of the time it sucks away.

    I watch a lot of TV.  It plays two distinctly different roles for my obsessive nature.  In simple terms it can be an obsession in itself.  I have stayed up late this weekend to catch-up on American Idol which I didn’t know was on until Friday evening when I scanned Apple TV (through 10Play).  I like American Idol because of the driven nature and talent of the contestants and the current judges.  I have been a fan of Harry Connick Jnr for a long time too.  The other role TV serves for me is as a distractor from being obsessive about my work.  I often become overly wrought about planning the perfect lesson or finding the right resources or putting together an awesome program and finessing the uploading to Weebly, Google Classroom or whatever electronic tool(s) I’m using.  TV distracts me from the stress of it all so I plod away instead of engrossing myself in it, tying my stomach into knots.

    Well, there we go, the end of 28 minutes and I end with a confession to obsession.  The confession to liking American Idol is probably a bigger concern though.  I want a lot of things in life and I can’t have them all.  I better live a long time though so I can at least try.


  7. Evil Email

    20 February 2015 by shartley

    Sure, email can be evil, especially the way the inbox is like a cup that runneth over and left a stain on the cloth.

    But today I’m going to write about good email.  The negative title grabs attention and has a nice alliteration and rhythm about it.  The email examples I’m providing are only from today.

    Not that we use textbooks much in Year 7 Geography, but part of my checklist of ensuring the students have everything they need to learn is that they have online access to their textbook.  Enough students were saying that there wasn’t one with their order that I knew something was wrong.  Like many schools, we use an online supplier to, well, supply required textbooks and equipment to students (parents) just before they commence the school year.  For Year 7 Geography they had the option of a combined physical/digital textbook or just a digital version.  It appears the majority of my class went for the digital version but some never received the email from the supplier with the access code (I suspected it was in their spam folder).  I was just trying to persuade someone with a little more power to do something about this when two emails from the same parent arrived.  The first email was that there wasn’t ever a Geography book on the order and then the second corrected that and said that she had “sorted it” and now had the access code.  I replied a thanks for both emails, that she wasn’t alone in the predicament, and by the way, how did she “sort it”.  A response was quite prompt that she was glad she wasn’t the only one and that she contacted the supplier and they admitted that they had overlooked sending the email out.  A discussion with the Head of Faculty and he called the supplier who quickly sent out the access codes for all our students.  Problem solved.  Yay!

    Today I was also checking the first piece of work Year 7s completed on a Google Doc.  A precious boy listed with Learning Support as having literacy needs had the most atrocious spelling I had seen in a very long time but when you looked closely it was phonetically quite accurate: koockaburra, oxegen, visical, envirament.  He also happens to be one of the more disruptive elements in the class.  I shared via email the Google Doc to the Head of Learning Support for some advice and she responded within minutes.  Awesome!

    The Head of Social Sciences Faculty and I emailed each other quite frequently today.  We seem to have opposing timetables which makes it hard to see each other in person , although we also managed to meet during lunch today.  The emails were mainly to notify of where particular students are up to in their PIPs for HSC Society and Culture, Year 7s with technology issues and other student matters.  They also serve as action prompts when they are flagged.  I think these emails save time rather than create problems.

    A Year 11 student emailed this afternoon to say her photo of the homework on the board turned out to be a little blurry, could I please send her the last two questions.  Easy!

    Finally, emails of a broadcasting nature when directed to the correct people are very useful.  On Monday I’m attending the ‘U-Turn the Wheel’ Driver Training Program with Year 11.  An email was sent with the instructions and itinerary for the day to those involved.  This saved the need for calling a meeting, an impossible event to organise to coincide when all teachers are not on class, nor playground/bus duty.   A perfect use of email.

    Well there you have it, my simple 28 minutes of writing on a Friday night.


  8. But Why?

    19 February 2015 by shartley

    I love the curiosity of younger kids.  I love toddlers who ask “But why?”  I don’t like that by the time they arrive at high school many have lost their enthusiasm.

    In Year 7 Geography we start with ‘What is Geography?’  I have some beautifully enthusiastic boys who are keen to contribute, one in particular is quite earnest.  The other 20-something students already view school as a chore.  Which is sad.

    What is also sad that their answer to ‘What is Geography?’ just focuses on knowledge and understanding.  I spent several minutes this week saying, “but why?”, to encourage further thought and development.  It was painful, but eventually we arrived at:

    • To care for the world
    • To solve problems like global warming and floods
    • To prepare for the future

    The next day I revisited the question and it still took a while to arrive at the why.  When did children stop thinking about the why?

    In Year 11 Society and Culture this week we discussed the differences between interactions they have at home with their family, with their friends, with people they know at school who aren’t close friends, with people in their sporting clubs and how they may be influenced by media and government.  Again, I had to be persistent with asking, “But why?”  Thankfully this is a class of thoughtful students.  I can almost see the cogs turning in their heads as I probe for more and more and their fascination increases as they learn more and more.  This is a class that will bring me joy.

    Even in HSC Business Studies I was asking, “But why?”  Why do businesses need to monitor, control and look for continual improvement?  Why do they want to offer after-sales service?  Why are stores laid out certain ways?  I’m tired of students thinking that all they need to do is make comprehensive textbook summary notes to achieve well in the HSC when synthesis and problem-solving are also important.  A couple of my more diligent students were reluctant to think about the type of customer service a bicycle shop could offer their customers at the point of sale and beyond, and thus wrote a single sentence response so they could tick the mental box that the task was complete.  When I had the discussion with them to push their thinking further they came up with some brilliant suggestions.  The trick now is to transfer that thinking into a pen and paper exam.

    But why is it such a struggle to push students beyond a memorising mindset?


  9. One More Mark

    15 February 2015 by shartley

    We recently had an assembly at my school to celebrate the students who received an ATAR over 90 in the HSC last year.  There was a brief introduction from the Principal, a guest speaker who was surprisingly entertaining and in-depth about having respect for yourself by demonstrating respect for others, a speech from an all-rounder from the class of 2014 and a speech from the student who achieved the highest ATAR in 2014.  The students’ speeches consistently referred to balance but also a commitment to study.  The Head of Curriculum spoke about “one more mark”.

    I am currently finishing my Masters in Education with a plan in place to do a literature review as one of my last subjects in preparation for a Masters of Research as a lead-in to a PhD.  A long road is marked ahead.  For my PhD I plan to examine the increasing emphasis on marks as the main goal instead of marks being a mere measure of learning.  Sometimes the learning component of 13 years of formal school education is lost in a single number.  Too many times I ask students what they want to do when they leave school and they have no idea.  When I ask what they want to achieve at school they say a good mark in the HSC.  I ask why and more often than not it is to please their parents.  I ask what interests them in what they’re learning, and they say not much, they are just aiming for good marks.  How sad is that?

    The “one more mark” speech implored students to ask their teachers what they could do for just one more mark.  You see, data analysis of the school’s HSC results revealed numerous 88s and 89s in individual subjects so the aim is to push students into Band 6 (90+) because we have more Band 5s than the average school, shouldn’t it be easy to push them into Band 6 with a one more mark philosophy?  I think not.  I think the underlying problem is more associated with a culture of teaching to the test and spoon-feeding, of memorising and regurgitating, not just in my school but across many, many schools.  Band 6 is about demonstrating high-order thinking skills, critical thinking, problem solving and the like.  Remembering one more fact will not push an 89 to a 90.

    Now as much as I am an advocate for learning to be a focus over the memorising for tests, part of my job is preparing students for the HSC and its testing regime.  In Society and Culture students need to know, understand and apply some core concepts.  We drill the eleven main definitions underlying just about everything studied in Society and Culture.  My Year 11s recently sat their first test of these eleven definitions.  One student perfectly provided the first six but then left the remaining five blank.  She didn’t want to even try to use words from her own understanding, she only wanted to give the precise words of the syllabus.  Again, how sad is that?

    This weekend I marked a practice HSC Business Studies extended response I had given as holiday work.  They were a long way below the standard I expect from these students.  I believe the majority didn’t do them over the holidays but the night before they submitted it.  The question was How can different sources of funds help a business achieve its financial objectives?  Both the sources of funds and financial objectives listed in the syllabus were handed out when the question was issued at the end of last year but many students failed to refer to them, probably because they just took the question from the ediary entry.  Most of those who did use these syllabus terms, did not link them to show how different sources of funds help businesses to achieve financial objectives but merely provided textbook definitions of each term and tacked on introductions and conclusions.  Needless to say, it was a disappointing marking process.  However, despite my reservations about the “one more mark” speech I am going to hand these responses back with marks and an expectation of how many more marks they are to achieve in their second attempt.  I feel like I’m going against my principles but that it could be a good way for them to see that their poor attempt at the only bit of homework I set over seven or so weeks of the holidays just isn’t good enough.  The increase of marks expected have been determined by my gut instinct based on having spent a year with these students and thus knowing what they can achieve.  Some students are being asked for just two more marks, some ten and a whole range in between.  Wish me luck!


  10. A-Z

    11 February 2015 by shartley

    Sometimes the timing of something perfectly lands an idea right in your lap.  Cathy Wilcox’s Australia Day A-Z cartoons in the smh did exactly that.  When I first saw it just a few days before I was to start teaching Society and Culture to a new bunch of Year 11s, I knew this was my hook, my illustration of society and culture and the various concepts we use in the course, to be specific: society, culture, persons, environment, time, power, authority, gender, globalisation, identity and technologies.

    After showing  Cathy Wilcox’s cartoons to the students, talking through how they linked to the course concepts, the students were required to do an A-Z to represent the culture of the school.  This turned into a particularly interesting social exercise for the class because in Years 7-10 only boys attend, meaning all the girls were brand new to the school.  Groups were organised with roughly 2 boys and 3 girls in each to allow the boys to explain some of the significance of what they wanted to include.  The students took about half an hour to come up with the A-Z ideas (at end of the first class where I showed them the Australia Day versions) and then an hour (the next lesson) for the ideas of the drawings and actually doing them.  They had a lot of fun doing it, they learned a lot about each other, the school and the course.  I enjoyed watching the relationships develop and seeing them grapple with the concepts and how they relate to the school.  So far, they appear to be an interesting and interested class.  I hope the enthusiasm and thinking brains stay focused.

    I’ve uploaded in SlideShare (and embedded here) a combined ‘A-Z of our school‘ of the three groups to illustrate the result: