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  1. Mind the Gap: Research and Schools

    1 November 2016 by shartley

    217048717_08e3e922f1_m

    Image by Mikel Ortega at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikelo/217048717

    Last week I attended the AIS Education Research Symposium.  When I worked at Oakhill College I was part of the team that created and implemented REAL (Relevant Engaging, Active Learning) and then we researched its impact.  Unfortunately I left Oakhill before the end of the two year research project but thankfully I remained involved to an extent.  We designed REAL to create a paradigm shift in the teaching and learning environment at the school through a transparent curriculum in a detailed but clear (student-friendly) format, structured for students to know each lesson or week:

    • What is to be learned
    • How it is to be learned, and
    • The evidence of successful learning

    The research project examined the impact of REAL on student outcomes but effectively discovered the effect it had on teachers too.  The research revealed REAL as a significantly successful program, although teachers found it hard to adapt their practices, and I’m proud to have been associated with it.

    But this post is about the symposium.  The main participants at the symposium are from schools that have received a funding opportunity from AIS and are at the start, middle or end of a two year research project.  It is also for any other teachers who are keen to make stronger links between research and teaching practice.  And the first keynote speaker, Dr Stacey Waters, was exactly on this topic.

    It is extremely hard to make a cultural shift in any institution, let alone a school which has so many entrenched perceptions of what it should be like.  Nearly everyone in the world experiences school and our experiences are reinforced by pop culture’s representation of it, this image being a teacher up the front instructing students sitting in rows, resisting the learning process (except when they have a superstar teacher like Michelle Pfeiffer or Robin Williams).

    This is not the one best way to learn.  Academic research has indicated this repeatedly, yet many schools resist changing (much like their students resist learning).  I think part of it is the conflicting voices dominating the discourse of how schools should operate. As mentioned before, there is the entertainment industry image but there is also the political viewpoint that schools must do better, meaning better at publicly published score achievement (PISA, NAPLAN, HSC).  In education conference circles there are a few (mainly men) who have a certain popularity, often stringing out their one concept stories for decades (I’m thinking the hole-in-the-wall story and the idea that schools kill creativity).

    The academic voice is often lost in all this.  There are some who are picked up by politicians and/or the media. For example, John Hattie and his Visible Learning ideal is lauded by politicians and the media.  However, even the John Hatties often remain ignored in the day-to-day classroom, for a number of reasons.

    Personally I think it stems from a dominating need of isolated teachers in their classrooms to have control and order.  Control and order is easier if learning is considered to be the mere accumulation of knowledge.  It casts a dark shadow on education.  Teaching is better if it is collaborative, learning is better if it is collaborative, but it is much harder to maintain control and order in a collaborative environment when there isn’t a desire to learn in the first place, by teachers or students.  It is harder to know what individual students are doing in a collaborative environment and if it is known that they are not participating in the learning process, it is hard to know what to do about them.  There are plenty of theories, methods and systems that can be put in place but really, it all comes to dealing with individual motivations and desires to learn.  And to be honest, the better learning environments take more time and energy to plan and monitor.  I love an active collaborative learning environment in my classrooms but boy, it’s hard work a lot of the time.  

    Prof Ruth Deakin Crick shared this quote as part of her presentation about the use of technology to change school culture from exam-driven teaching to a learning culture with dynamic pedagogy and engagement (image, however, was clipped from elsewhere):

    screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-6-05-25-pm

    Teachers are so busy and comfortable with what they know well and what they’ve been rewarded for in the past, they don’t want to become even busier and take risks that result in lost control and disapproval.

    So now we can see why some resistance to change exists, let’s return to the academic voice and other reasons why it is difficult to implement research findings into school practice.

    To be able to research in a detailed, scientifically credible manner, academics focus on narrow areas to reduce multiple confounding factors in their study. They generally want to discover a cause and effect, and the size of that effect, but to be specific and certain they can only concentrate on one cause and one effect at a time, whereas education is much much more complicated than that.  It is like reducing economic modelling to two products in the market.  It illustrates a concept but an economy with just two products is not real life.  This is why Hattie’s study is so appealing, it throws hundreds of studies into the mix and calculates which causes have the most effect.  However, one point worth noting, is how long this all takes.  A research project can take years, and then months to write and publish in an academic journal, and then even longer to garner the attention of those who it really affects, people in schools.  I’m not sure of the age of the studies Hattie includes in his meta-analysis.  Due to the narrow focus and time-lags the question was raised at the conference as to whether the academic rigour should be sacrificed, to an extent, to allow more pertinent and practical studies be undertaken in a more timely manner.  I don’t know the answer.

    The publish or perish pressure on academics is a significant factor too.  The money associated with grants often comes with a proviso of what must be researched. Dr Stacey Waters also referred to the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) system which awards points according to the category of grants.  To be published, it helps if the research is something new and different, rather than going deeper into something that has already been examined.  The dream situation for an academic though, is selling books.  And books sell if they have something novel and easy to implement.  We all know how hard change management is, but just how many books advocate just ‘x’ number of steps (eg Kotter’s 8 steps) like it is a simple linear process?  It’s not.

    Even if academics find something that is commonly considered important to implement in schools, the process is slow and usually ineffectual. Researchers are already balancing teaching and research and then they need to market their findings so that schools will take their ideas on board, when so many ideas are already present.  Dr Stacey Waters says that publishing and even training people is not enough. One of her presentation slides said:


    Implementation is most successful when…

    • Practitioners receive training and coaching
    • The organisation provides the necessary infrastructure for training and coaching and regularly evaluates
    • The community is fully involved in the selection and evaluation of programs

    (Fixsen, Naoom, Blasé, Friedman & Wallace, 2005)


    She argued that schools should build relationships with universities and establish a research culture by providing easy access to academic journals and having a forum to discuss what these journals have to say.

    Before Oakhill obtained the research funding opportunity from AIS, we asked some universities to help us perform academic research.  We discovered that not only did they want to be paid consultation fees, that some even wanted to virtually take over the whole process.  We backed away quickly and were relieved and grateful to receive the AIS funding opportunity.  As part of the inaugural recipients of research funding there was only minimal guidance but still, some important structural requirements, including an academic advisor.  However, we ended up only spending 50% of the budgeted amount we allocated for the advisor. He was extremely helpful for implementing research that produced quantifiable data and how that data could be used, but partly due to how late we were and partly due to the lack of need, we didn’t use as much of his services for the writing part as we thought we would.

    So here we were at a conference that was bringing together academics and teachers, albeit those already interested in research. As Terrie Jones tweeted, “Teacher practitioner researchers in partnership with academics bridging the research practice divide? This room. #AISRandD16”.  One of the sessions I enjoyed the most was about Case Study as a form of research.  From what little I have been involved in research at a tertiary level, I have found case study methods frowned upon because it is not appropriate to extrapolate something that works in one circumstance as being applicable to a wider range of circumstances.  Dr Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn argued that yes, three case studies are better than one, but much can be learned from them and proceeded to demonstrate how powerful they could be but also recognising their limitations.  I tweeted that I’d love to work on a case study with Dr Kimberley and she responded with a “Let’s talk” which I will probably take her up on some time next year (see screen grab below).  However, I’m not looking to do research like this until at least 2018.  I started a Master of Research (MRES) at Macquarie University this year but stopped just a few weeks in due to lack of time. I’m currently not working full-time so I can help my son through his HSC (he has autism and anxiety issues).  I considered studying also during this year ‘off’ but I need to make him the priority, not my own work. After that I’ll be open to all sorts of projects!

    screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-6-30-03-pm

    The people at this conference are the core people of their organisations interested in learning and continuous improvement.  What we actually need to learn as researchers within schools, is how to gather-in colleagues to a learning mindset and join with us.

    When we first attempted researching the REAL project ourselves, we applied to present at academic conferences in Seville, Spain, and New York, USA, and were approved for both based on our ‘abstracts’.  This was before the AIS research funding program even existed and we were without any support from universities.  We then had to write papers for these conferences, the New York paper being subject to a peer review.  It failed one reviewer but the other advised us to change the format significantly, which we did, and it was then published <http://shanihartley.cgpublisher.com/product/pub.264/prod.58>*.  We also had to review other papers which was a great learning experience for us.  At these conferences there was much said about education at all levels but over 90% of the presenters were from universities.  Universities seem to take a more hit-and-run approach instead of working in tandem with the schools they research.  It would be nice to see or even experience more collaboration between schools and universities in the research process at academic conferences.  Perhaps we were better off without a university’s own agenda. We were unusual in being school teachers conducting and presenting our own research.  There should be more of it.  

     

    * Despite numerous emails to the publishers, the bios of the authors were not corrected.
    This post is also found at http://squibsandsagas.blogspot.com.au/2016/11/mind-gap-research-and-schools.html

  2. TeachMeet: Solve For x

    20 October 2016 by shartley

    Phillip taking a selfie before presenting. I'm the one waving up the back.

    Phillip taking a selfie before presenting.
    I’m the one waving up the back.

    * This blog post is also found at http://squibsandsagas.blogspot.com.au/2016/10/teachmeet-solve-for-x.html

    I have been to several TeachMeets.  This particular TeachMeet was held at Google headquarters in Sydney which was one of the main attractions for me.  I missed out on one two years earlier and as I searched for the Twitter hashtag for this evening I found an exchange that occurred about the use of #TMGoogle – the issue being that TeachMeets are supposed to be teacher ran and teachers as presenters, no sponsorship.  However, to host a TeachMeet in a cool location such as Google HQ there is a trade-off.  Tonight I felt the trade to be rather unequal.  The hashtag was not #TMGoogle but perhaps it should have been. It seemed every second speaker represented Google and was promoting something, useful somethings, but advertisements nevertheless. An extra grating factor was that teacher presenters were held to their time limits, albeit poorly, speakers not being deterred by soft Star Wars toys being thrown at them when their time had expired, yet Google presenters had limitless time.  And trust me, the teachers were much more interesting than the Google employees.

    The stated theme of this TeachMeet was ‘Solve for x’, thereby promoting problem solving in education, that students solve whatever issue ‘x’ represented for teachers and/or students. The evening was officially launched by Kimberley Sutton through a YouTube video to explain the concept: Moonshot Thinking: Solve for x @ Tribeca Film Festival. Our first teacher presenter linked a goal to this theme nicely.

    I have known Phillip Cooke through TeachMeets and Twitter for many years.  He is a passionate secondary school educator and declared this evening that his moonshot concept is teaching for life instead of for exams, a policy I am also passionate about.  I have enjoyed seeing Phillip present on this theme in many variations before. He is always interesting because not only does he and his colleagues come up with the ideas but they actually implement them, although I’m sure he wish he could implement more.  Phillip was intricately involved in the complete rebuild of his school, a school often seen in the industry as an alternative option for the misfits in our education system and thus had a poor reputation for a long time for drugs and disruptive behaviour. However, its hands-on practical approach to education is becoming more dominant in industry discourse and it has featured on a TV show for doing things a little differently.

    Phillip’s attitude towards authentic learning is borne out by some of the initiatives he has shared:

    • Establishing an annual Creative Careers Day where the future implications of their learning come to life through the people operating in creative enterprises
    • Implementing cross-curricular activities, such as Design and Technology with English and Drama to create wearable art costumes for a production of Othello, “Students didn’t just read Othello – they lived it
    • Printing art designs of students on tea towels and selling them, simple but effective (also make great thank you presents at Teach Meets)

    If I was to give my own moonshot for teaching and learning is that I desperately want students to be thinking for themselves. As a senior school teacher, I hate how much teaching is about preparing for HSC exams, such as artificial artifice that it diminishes authentic learning.  This is why I always like what Phillip has to say.

    Dominic Hearne set the tone of his talk by quoting Gary Stager, “Schools have a sacred obligation to introduce children to things they don’t yet know they love”. In line with this philosophy, Dominic’s school has introduced a series of compulsory critical thinking courses, which I absolutely applaud. These include:

    • Future Problem Solving
    • Visions of Leadership
    • The Art of War / The Ethics of Peace
    • Epistemology (how do we think, why do we think, what influences our thinking and perception)

    My daughter is currently studying International Relations and Human Rights at university. She would have loved the opportunity to examine some of these topics at school.  Her response being:

    screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-3-03-05-pm

    One of the students undertaking this course used several sources to investigate the Jewish holocaust and, as might be expected, referred to movie representations of the holocaust such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. He also had access to his grandmother’s letters and other documents depicting her time as a Jew interned by Hitler.  The result was not just a well researched product but the rest of the class had a new insight into the atrocities.

    Nick Brierley hooked me by not only emphasising the thinking skill of problem solving but linking to the TV show Stranger Things, where the children in the show are constantly having to solve problems, not always successfully. He advocated the use of BreakoutEDU, a resource for creating engaging problem-solving games in classrooms. This is definitely a tool I will investigate further.

    Technology definitely has a role to play in developing students’ critical thinking skills. A primary school teacher, Alfina Jackson commenced with the statement that she hasn’t heard students say they need PD before they can use technology, so if they can do it, teachers can do it too.  Glib, but mostly true. I have come across many teachers who are so ingrained in teaching the same way, with the same worksheets, year after year, that they truly struggle with making more than the occasional change to their regular modus of operation.

    Alfina has her own YouTube Channel, mainly consisting of videos made by K-2 students.  These videos demonstrate learning in an authentic and meaningful way for our modern age.  Without many of us realising it, children are learning all the time through YouTube.  Actually many adults too.  I recently used YouTube to learn how to cast-off my knitting.  Alfina is therefore not only teaching students a particular topic, she is teaching digital responsibility.  Creating public videos also motivates students through the hands-on activity and real audience feedback.  All of this requires several higher-order thinking processes.

    Another initiative Alfino implemented was Year 1 completing book reviews on Google Slides. For the content, the teacher taught students to use three simple sentence word-starters:

    • I liked the part…
    • I disliked the part…
    • I would change…

    However, after a quick introduction to using Google Slides, the students worked out for themselves and taught each other the various creative features of using the slides.  After the first drafts were completed the teacher provided feedback through the comment feature which prompted students to comment on each other’s reviews, leading to a discussion of how to write positively, particularly in a public domain.

    On the other hand, I don’t believe technology should be used for simply its own sake.  Alfino showed how students learning to write could trace the letter on an iPad.  I’m not sure how this particularly improves on the pen and paper version except simply for the hook that it is on an iPad.

    The highlight of the evening was the dynamic Kathleen O’Rourke. Kathleen is learning to become a Primary School teacher at Macquarie University after a decade or so in the workforce. She is passionate about many things and her LinkedIn profile reveals she is not only an advocate for education and the marginalised but she walks the talk.  At first I thought she was also going to emphasise technology due to her tagline, “Is it OK to ask students to do something that we are not comfortable to do ourselves?” Instead, Kathleen answered that question with, “If we don’t pursue our x’s how can we expect our students to?”

    As part of being a pre-service teacher, Kathleen decided there wasn’t enough professional development on offer, beyond the regular uni courses and practicum experience so out together some events and now the concept has exploded.  As a full-time carer for her grandmother, Kathleen found it difficult to access working disabled toilets, particularly in medical institutions.  Consequently, she has an aim to develop an app that lists and user-rates them. I spoke to Kathleen at the end of the evening and found just how determined she is to put theory into action. Earlier that day she had been at a school presenting to teachers and discussing with them a university assignment. This was not part of the set work.  She has also tutored primary-aged students who are newly settled refugees on a volunteer basis.

    I was not the only one who thought Kathleen was amazing. This was the reaction on Twitter:

    screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-6-25-15-pm screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-6-25-30-pm screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-6-25-47-pm screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-6-28-48-pm

    All in all it was worthwhile attending this TeachMeet.  I learned about some new Google products and enjoyed hearing how other teachers are implementing problem solving and other critical thinking activities.  However, I’d prefer it if future TeachMeets adhered to the no sponsorship ideal, even (especially?) if it means returning to the pubs and clubs where they began.


  3. 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?


  4. 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.


  5. 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.


  6. 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.


  7. 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.


  8. 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.


  9. 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?


  10. 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!


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