August 2012

A fantastic article by Steve Dinham that deserves this (permitted) republishing.

A political education: hijacking the quality teaching movement

By Stephen Dinham, University of Melbourne

All we seem to hear about these days is failing teachers in failing schools. Those from business, government and the field of economics have all weighed in, criticising teachers, teacher educators and schools and offering often naive, misinformed or ideologically driven “remedies”.

So called evidence is being selectively used both to paint a grim picture of the “problem” and to prescribe quick-fix solutions.

These are worrying signs that decades of empirical research are being ignored in the discussion we need to have about teacher quality. The quality teacher movement is now in danger of being hijacked.

A long running debate

I have been involved with research into teaching and learning for more than 20 years – studying teaching expertise, recognising and rewarding it and above all, trying to improve it.

We know from research that the biggest in-school influence on student achievement is teacher quality. Developments such as NAPLAN, My School, the Australian Curriculum, the Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), National Partnerships and AITSL have all recognised and led to a greater emphasis on teaching.

I was initially pleased to see the growing attention given to teachers and hoped that this would lead to significant investment in their professional learning. But it is now clear that rather than regarding teachers as our most important asset they are now being seen as our biggest problem.

The blame game

Important work has been misconstrued. John Hattie’s recognition, for example, of teachers’ importance has been twisted to imply that it is the teacher’s fault when students fail to learn.

We now frequently hear of the teacher being “the biggest influence on student achievement” but somewhere along the way a crucial term has been mislaid: “in-school”. Other school and non-school factors in total are more important.

Hattie’s position on direct instruction has also been misconstrued as advocating didactic, “traditional” teacher-centred approaches rather than its intended meaning of teachers having a clear intention of what they are trying to achieve with every student and orchestrating learning in their classrooms accordingly.

Instead of a collegial opening up of classrooms and professional practice, what follows is that because of their influence, some feel we need greater control and surveillance over teachers. Some principals engage in a growing practice of snap inspections of classrooms, sometimes accompanied by video-taking to “catch” teachers performing badly. Rather than useful constructive feedback, we see arbitrary and impressionistic “assessment”, with an unfocused demand to lift performance.

Recent Victorian and NSW government discussion papers on teaching paint a picture of a crisis that requires intervention from on high. The role of professional standards has been twisted to be more about judging and dismissing teachers than developing and recognising them.

Rather than being done with and for teachers, many hastily created measures are being done to them and without them, guaranteeing resistance and minimal compliance and making mutual understanding and collaboration almost impossible.

Where’s the evidence?

Compounding this issue is a growing chorus of ill-informed half-baked solutions to the “problem” of teacher quality, including sacking the “bottom” 5% of teachers, whoever they are, and somehow replacing them with better teachers; paying teachers by “results”, however these are determined and measured; punishing and rewarding schools on the basis of “performance”; giving principals more autonomy and power to hire and fire; bonus pay for the “top” teachers; raising entry standards for teacher candidates, and allowing non-teachers to become principals.

Nowhere in any of these solutions (“sticks”) do I see a way for teachers to develop and be rewarded for growth (“carrots”). What I do see is a blanket stigmatisation of teachers, principals, teacher educators and education system leaders.

All these “solutions” ignore the fact that Australia still performs well on international measures of student achievement such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Of course, we can’t rest on our laurels as there are signs of slippage and as the Gonski report into schools funding pointed out, the equity gap remains an issue.

We are, however, well ahead of the United States on PISA, to use one measure, yet we still look to the USA as a model to follow.

A fixation with Finland, Shanghai, South Korea and the like represents the worst form of cultural cringe. We need to recognise and build on the strengths we have rather than “cherry picking” what appear to be recipes for success from vastly different contexts.

In the 1990s, everybody was talking about emulating the educational and business practices of Japan due to the strength of its economy. Nobody talks about copying Japan now.

Equity and quality

We cannot ignore the effects on learning and development of socio-economic status, family background, geographic location and the resources available to schools. Despite their best efforts, every teacher is not going to be able to bring every student to an average or above average level of performance – a statistical and practical impossibility.

Life isn’t fair, but good teaching and good schools are the best means we have of overcoming disadvantage.

The Gonski report showed we have a highly inequitable and inefficient means of allocating funding to schools which has been cobbled together over time. We need a lean, powerful and efficient system. But instead of Usain Bolt, what we have is more like Frankenstein’s monster.

Changing this system would be hard at the best of times, but the lack of political will makes it very difficult indeed.

Whenever this debate surfaces, politicians fear alienating voters and quickly guarantee that whatever the plan, no school will be worse off. This almost guarantees nothing will change and that inequities will be perpetuated if not made worse.

Time for teachers to speak out

We are at a crucial point in our development as an educated nation and we need strong, informed bipartisan support rather than baseless politicking.

We need to be aware of decades of empirical work rather than dismissive. We need to stop looking for quick fix solutions which have been found wanting elsewhere.

Above all, as a nation we need to recognise education as our most important investment, and not a cost.

It is time for the profession as a whole to speak up and to question from a basis of evidence so called remedies to the perceived problems of teachers.

Stephen Dinham received an ARC grant in the past.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Paraprosdokian Fun

Sent via Flipboard

I think this get’s things in much better perspective!

The real story is that at the heart of charter and its corresponding framework is an understanding that teaching is a complex, messy, human business where “performance” or “effectiveness” can’t be measured via students’ NAPLAN scores or even their ATARs.

Building a profession: teacher performance reviews not just about ‘bad teachers’

By Nicole Mockler, University of Newcastle

Finally, perhaps the time has come. The Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders and the Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework, both signed off by state and federal education ministers on Friday, have the potential to support a significant rethink of teacher development and learning in Australia – a rethink that is well overdue.

Predictably, the major news outlets’ coverage has skipped over the main story to focus almost exclusively on teacher appraisal as a tool for punishing “bad” teachers, with headlines like Back to School for Queensland Teachers who get Ds (The Courier Mail), and Teachers to Undergo Performance Reviews (ABC News).

I say predictably because the Australian media rarely wastes an opportunity to position teachers as requiring remediation and disciplining, drawing on the fact that we’ve all been to school and can all remember one we didn’t like.

The real story, however, is far bigger than how to deal with the small percentage of teachers who wilfully underperform. And neither is it about the (shock! horror!) idea that students and parents might be brought into the conversation about teachers’ practice – more about that one later.

The real story is that at the heart of charter and its corresponding framework is an understanding that teaching is a complex, messy, human business where “performance” or “effectiveness” can’t be measured via students’ NAPLAN scores or even their ATARs.

There’s an understanding also that real teacher learning and development needs to be relevant, collaborative and future-focused: this is no one-size-fits-all, spray-on or drive-by business, but something more purposeful, sustained and far more powerful.

Lawrence Stenhouse, the great British curriculum reformer, called in the 1970s for teaching to become a research-based profession. This was no call, however, to what we might recognise today as “evidence-based practice”, often a sterile and compliance-driven process where the evidence in question is so narrowly defined as to be meaningless.

No, Stenhouse was referring to teachers systematically engaging in robust processes of inquiry in relation to their practice, working within their communities to ask tough questions of themselves and each other, to gather and make sense of data about their practice from a rich variety of sources, and to make public their findings.

In 1975, he wrote:

“There can be no educational development without teacher development…the best means of development is not by clarifying ends but by analysing practice”.

The Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework opens the door to the possibility that this kind of teacher professional learning and development might, over time, become the dominant model in Australian schools.

For that to happen, however, we’ll need to resist the urge to mandate every detail of the process across the range of different school contexts and trust schools and teachers to develop local processes that work for them – this one is hard for us, so fond are we of the technologies of compliance and so distrusting are we of difference.

We’ll also need to provide teachers with significant conceptual and practical support in analysing and improving their teaching, and encourage them to engage in the process authentically, without the fear that admitting that there might be room for improvement is akin to proclaiming oneself to be a hopeless joke of a teacher.

This one is hard too – it can be difficult to engage in a process that allows the chinks in the armour to open up during times when, as I’ve noted above, the media seems intent on positioning teachers as substandard and in need of remediation, and public opinion is so easily shaped by such rhetoric.

So there are some factors in our systems, both societal and educational, that might yet see this relegated to another set of empty words. I do find myself hoping, however, that, at a time when so many of the international education trends to do with compliance and standardisation are being shown to have failed our children, the counter-cultural promise of the charter and framework might just find some fertile ground.

Nicole Mockler does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

A very good article, republished from The Conversation.


Are all ideas equal? Not in the classroom

By Peter Ellerton, University of Queensland

There is a widespread belief amongst teachers that it is part of their duty of care, even a defining aspect of their of professionalism, that all views expressed in the classroom are to be treated equally.

I take it as one of my first duties to challenge this. The right to have a view is indeed equally shared, but this is does not imply the same for the idea itself. If all ideas are equal, then all ideas are worthless.

If we accept this, then we can meaningfully ask questions about how these views might be evaluated – true grist for the educational mill.

A fine line

An American bill, defeated ultimately by the Oklahoma Senate this year, attempted to legislate that students were not to be “penalised in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories”.

Obviously this terrain that must be carefully negotiated in the context of developing minds, but there is a core principle here that requires articulation.

Central to a liberal society is the right to discuss things. Not being able to do this is totalitarianism – the banning of unsanctioned ideas. So where on the continuum of controlling public discourse, if it is to be done at all, can we comfortably sit?

The further we move away from unfettered public speech the murkier the waters become, with calls of and for censorship beginning after the first paddle stroke. Where this boundary lies for and within individuals is highly significant in an educational setting.

Let me make the point in a broader social context, one that involves exploring that most cherished of hurts, the pain of being offended.

The truth hurts

What happens when you are offended by something someone says but no one around you seems outraged? Well, first you’d best establish that you’re deeply offended. Don’t be very offended: be deeply offended, or even offend to the core of your being.

And what could cause such offence? One might imagine a threat to the physical safety of you and your loved ones, but is this where we find it most often?

No, such offence seems the end-point along a path of least resistance for those whose most strongly held beliefs are challenged. They claim for their ideas what rightly belongs to people: respect.

We naturally adopt a respectful attitude to people. At this basic level, people have to work hard to lose our respect, and even then we may choose not to leave them at the last because we value human life and dignity.

We appreciate that they contribute in some way to the social norms we all enjoy, and that they, like us, are creators of society as well as a participants in it.

People and ideas

Ideas have no such empathic traction. Unlike people they cannot suffer, they do not know joy and they do not contribute by themselves to the happiness of others in any social sense. That is not to say there are no really good or really bad ideas, but that they need to stand or fall exclusively on their merits, and often within their own contexts.

They should be subject to critical scrutiny and survive only though articulation and argumentation. The point is, ideas are not people. And people are not just their ideas.

This is certainly true, at least, in that I am not my patented, self-cleaning bathtub, but is it just as true that I am not my political ideology, or that I am not my religious belief? These latter examples may not be quite so neatly teased apart: when does my idea become my creed, and when does my creed become my identity?

For the individual, there is a distinct difference between a casual idea and a core belief. We may claim that without that core belief we would be other than who we are, but that other ideas can be considered just as an intellectual exercise (I am aware that I have simplified the nature of belief, but it will do to serve my point).

Here is where we need to acknowledge the painful fact that what is a core belief to us may be simply an entertaining idea to someone else and, like all ideas in a free society, it must be permissible to subject it to inquiry.

The fallacy of deepest offence

To assume that an idea may not be questioned because it is a part of your identity, and that an attack on it is an attack on you, equivalent to a denial of human respect, is a fallacy, and I name it here the “Fallacy of Deepest Offence” (a variety of the strawman fallacy).

It is a blurring of the line between people and ideas. It is a device by which ideas are rendered immune to critical inquiry.

If you want to believe that the world is made of snow, that women are inferior to men or that homosexuality is morally wrong then go ahead. But the instant you take that belief into the public arena, your ideas will be rightfully tested.

The minute you suggest others should believe it too, you will be challenged. When you ask that the taxes of your fellow citizens support your beliefs, you will be resisted. This is exactly how an open society operates and should operate. You are not immune because you are sincere.

To not recognise this fallacy within us, and to not permit students to learn of it, creates two problems at the very least. The first is that we lose the ability to reflect on our own internal processes. If we do not look inwards and question what we see, we fossilise, led more by our creed than by our critical faculties.

The second is that we become less tolerant of others, less willing to work collaboratively, and less able to comprehend arguments. Both of these diminish our ability to contribute and to co-exist.

To make the claim of offence in this way is to not only commit the fallacy, but is also to utterly disrespect the right of your fellows to engage in honest inquiry, and that is a very deep offence indeed – particularly when it carries over into the classroom.

Peter Ellerton does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

n720929879_177388_9305_normal.jpgMark Colvin (@Colvinius)
7/08/12 10:40
RT @mariekehardy: This is a story about what happened to me yesterday.

A good article on iPads, although I must keep saying it’s about pedagogy based on personal digital devices!

Really like this article on meaningful assessment:

Criteria for a Meaningful Classroom Assessment

To address these requirements, I ask myself the following guided questions:

    Does the assessment involve project-based learning?
    Does it allow for student choice of topics?
    Is it inquiry based?
    Does it ask that students use some level of internet literacy to find their answers?
    Does it involve independent problem solving?
    Does it incorporate the 4Cs?
    Do the students need to communicate their knowledge via writing in some way?
    Does the final draft or project require other modalities in its presentation? (visual, oral, data, etc…)

Clearly not all assessments achieve every single characteristic listed above. But in our attempt to address some of these elements, we will have made our classroom assessments so much more meaningful.

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