Friday, August 20, 2010

Eight Aboriginal Ways of Learning

Incorporating Aboriginal perspectives is a requirement for public school teachers in New South Wales, however I would wager that most would struggle with doing this in an authentic, non-tokenistic manner.

Tyson Kaawoppa Yunkaporta, an Aboriginal Education Consultant for Western New South Wales, has created a richly evolving space at the eight ways that Aboriginal people learn. I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Western New South Wales for sharing this knowledge and their generosity in making it available for teachers to use. I hope that this becomes a vessel for skyrocketing educational outcomes for Aboriginal students.

I would have loved being taught in these ways and definitely would have relished going to school even more than I did - yes, a total nerd! But who can resist the pull of deep, contextualised learning? So let's use it!

Social Networking in First Life

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Making of Modern Australia

I've been hooked on Joey's Song by Bill Haley & His Comets since seeing the first episode of the six-part documentary series The Making of Modern Australia.

The first episode is entitled The Australian Child and case studies are presented to explore a range of experiences of childhood in Australia since WWII. Donna, an Aboriginal child, was taken from her family and rural mission, and her recollections were heartbreakingly evocative. One was the memory of her family community relaxing after supper listening to her uncle play Joey's Song, her favourite. Later, as she stepped into her adoptive mother's home for the first time, the song was playing on the radio.

It's provoking to consider the spirit and significance of music to culture and identity. Joey's Song now evokes in me Donna's poignant experience of childhood.

I wonder about the Australian childhoods that are being formed today, and the music connected to them. What stories will tell themselves in another fifty years? How will we understand what we are doing and what is happening to children now?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Is it all in the head?

Maybe it is, but it's in the physical world that much of what goes on upstairs has its impact.

The parts that comprise a person are awfully and intricately webbed. Applied to teaching, I find it impossible not to see children (or anyone, for that matter) holistically.

I've been finding myself drawn into wanting to be more involved in student welfare. And although it has historically served a responsive role, I've been chuffed to find a relatively recent movement towards positive psychology, which seeks to foster elements that enable people to thrive, as opposed to just survive. This philosophy resonates deeply with me and so of course I've devised another of my frequent plans (harebrained or pie-in-the-sky styled plans 8-) I'm often told) so that I can do something about this. Scratch, scratch, scratch!

So my goal is this: work towards school counselling and in this role research, develop and implement school and community-wide programs that strengthen individuals, families and society. Start in Western Sydney, and then work with leaders in the field to evangelise the nation!

In the meantime, it's going to mean a lot of work :D Small steps first. I'm applying for psychology sponsorship and then retraining. Thanks, DET. This process will take several years, so there's time to flesh out the steps and details of the plan.

Yes, I still believe in education as a key, but I believe that there is another part I can play, where I will feel at peace, pursuing that which I feel even more pivotal. I knew something wasn't quite right, that there's a deeper need. After all, yes, there's a key, but we need to consider the individuals to whom that key has been offered.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Have You Reached Saturation Point?

I'm addicted to learning.

In particular, I've been learning to work against the path of least resistance, as that's often where the most gains are to be made. Don't you find that it's often more rewarding too, going through the process of struggle? There's a sense of hard-earned satisfaction that goes with it. When things come too easily, we tend not to value them.

Thing is, if you are literate and have ready access to the internet, learning is easy. Too easy and too much. This afternoon I listed the tasks relating to professional development that I wish to keep on top of:
  • RSS feeds

  • Discussion list emails

  • Twitter links

  • Books

  • Journals

  • Blogging

  • Other personal learning network (PLN)

    sharing and discussion

  • School-based PD

  • School programming and preparation

  • School PBL team

  • School technology team

I find myself not wanting to accept that there is a limit to what is humanly possible to regularly engage in. There is a wealth of meaty knowledge that's now so eeeeasily available. I feel as if I'm standing by the banks of the chocolate river in Willy Wonka's factory, and all I can do is dip a small mug in - I can't possibly consume it all. Yet it continues to flow past increasingly rapidly.

I've reached saturation point.

I suppose that what I need to learn now is to manage my intake. To other full time primary school teachers, how have you done this?

Did I say that learning is easy? Yes, but for me, it's the management of it that's the challenge.

Guidelines for Evidence-Based Reading Instruction

The goal of reading is understanding, for as adults, we read with intention (however, admittedly, as a lover of the act of reading, I will read the back of the toothpaste tube while brushing my teeth!). Yet successful reading is a complex composite skill to which readers must bring a myriad of other skills that interact in combination in order for the text to be accessed and understood. Obviously a firm knowledge of these elements, as informed by rigorous research, is required by teachers and applied to our teaching of reading.

The publication “Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks of Reading Instruction (Kindergarten through Grade 3) (Armbruster, Lehr & Osborn, 2003, 2nd ed.), developed by the Centre for Improvement of Early Reading Achievement and funded by the National Institute for Literacy, clearly summarises the findings and from the extensive research into reading. I've jotted my notes below.


  • Extensive knowledge base exists that indicates skills that must be learnt for effective reading

  • Should provide the basis for sound curriculum decisions and instructional approaches

  • Predictable consequences of early reading failure

  • 100 000 studies reviewed and screened for

        • measurement of reading skill outcomes

        • generalisability

        • examination of approach effectiveness

        • high quality

  • 5 areas of instruction identified: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension

Phonemic Awareness (PA) Instruction

  • Ability to notice, think about and work with the individual sounds in spoken words

  • Often misunderstood as phonics (instead, PA required to reap benefits from phonics instruction)

  • Also often misunderstood as phonological awareness (instead, PA a subcategory of phonological awareness)

  • Key findings from research:

        • PA can be taught and learnt

        • PA instruction helps children learn to read

        • PA instruction helps children learn to spell

        • PA instruction is most effective when children are taught to manipulate phonemes by using letters of the alphabet

        • PA instruction is most effective when it focuses on only one or two types of phoneme manipulation, rather than several types

  • Types of activities to build phonemic awareness include phoneme:

        • isolation (recognition in a word)

        • identity (recognition of same sound in different words)

        • categorisation (recognition of same/different sounds in a set of 3 – 4 words)

        • blending (combine separate phonemes, then write and read them)

        • segmentation (break a word into its separate phonemes, then write and read it)

        • deletion (recognise what word remains when a phoneme is removed from a given word)

        • addition (create a new word by the addition of a phoneme to a given word)

        • substitution (substitution of a phoneme in a word for another to create a new word)

  • In general, small group instruction is more effective than individual or whole-group

  • Not a complete reading program

  • Whether benefits lasting depends on comprehensiveness and effectiveness of entire literacy curriculum

    (N.B. 'Of course, many other things, including the size of children's vocabulary and their world experiences, contribute to reading comprehension' – this is the bugbear.)

Phonics Instruction

  • Known by many labels

  • Goal for children to learn and use the alphabetic principle

  • This knowledge contributes significantly to reading of words in isolation and connected text

  • Key findings from research:

    • Systematic and explicit phonics instruction is more effective than non-systematic or no phonics instruction

        • Systematic and explicit phonics instruction significantly improves kindergarten and first-grade children's word recognition and spelling

        • Systematic and explicit phonics instruction significantly improves children's reading comprehension

        • Systematic and explicit phonics instruction is effective for children from various social and economic levels

        • Systematic and explicit phonics instruction is particularly beneficial for children who are having difficulty learning to read and who are at risk for developing future reading problems

        • Systematic and explicit phonics instruction is most effective when introduced early

        • Phonics instruction is not an entire reading program for beginning readers

  • Systematic phonics instruction clearly identifies and sequences for teaching, a carefully chosen set of letter-sound relationships

  • Systematic instruction is not incidental or just-in-time

  • A means to an end. Allot time for children to put this knowledge into reading (and writing) words, sentences and texts

(N.B. Regarding the criticism of this area of instruction due to the irregularity of English spellings, this irregularity can serve as a useful indication of word origins, enriching the learning experience.)

Fluency Instruction

  • Fluency develops over time through substantial practice

  • Not a stage of development

  • Ability to divide sentences into meaningful chunks (phrases and clauses) required for expressive reading

  • Close relationship between fluency and reading comprehension

  • Key findings from research:

  • Repeated and monitored oral reading improves reading fluency and overall reading achievement

    Several effective techniques:

    - Four rereadings sufficient for most students

    - Oral reading practice is increased through the use of audio recordings, tutors, peer guidance or other means

  • No research evidence is available currently to confirm that instructional time spent on silent, independent reading with minimal guidance and feedback is improves reading fluency and overall reading achievement

  • Provide models of fluent reading

  • Have students repeatedly read passages (at their independent level) as you offer guidance

  • It is the actual time that students are actively engaged in reading that produces gains

  • Poetry is particularly suitable for fluency practice as they frequently contain rhythm, rhyme and meaning

  • Student-adult reading, choral reading, CD-assisted reading, partner reading

  • Calculate and monitor correct words per minute (Guidelines: 60 cwpm by the end of year 1; 90 – 100 cwpm by the end of year 2; and approx 114 cwpm by the end of year 3)

  • Direct instruction especially important for struggling readers

  • Non-fluent readers unlikely to make effective and efficient use of silent, independent reading time (takes away from needed reading instruction)

  • Indicators for fluency instruction:

    * > 10% errors on unpractised text

    * cannot read orally with expression

    * Poor comprehension on orally read text

(N.B. Then accelerated literacy (AL) component of identifying and working with grammatical elements of texts may be of assistance in this regard)

Vocabulary Instruction

  • Findings from research:

  • Children learn the meanings of most words indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and written language (via [1] engaging daily in oral reading, [2] listening to adults reading to them and [3] reading extensively on their own)

  • Although a great deal of vocabulary is learnt indirectly, some vocabulary should be taught directly (such as difficult words that represent complex concepts that are not part of their everyday experiences)

    - Specific word instruction (before reading/extended and repeated exposure in many contexts)

    - Word learning strategies (dictionaries and other reference aids/using word parts/using context clues)

  • Focus on teaching [1] important words, [2] useful words and [3] difficult words

  • Four types of word learning:

    1. A new meaning for a known word

    2. The meaning for a new word representing a known concept

    3. The meaning of a new word representing an unknown concept

    4. Clarifying and enriching the meaning of a known word

  • Foster word consciousness – an awareness of an interest in words, their meanings and their power

Text Comprehension Instruction

  • Without understanding what they are reading, readers are not really reading

  • Good readers are purposeful and active

  • Purposes: find out how to use/do; gather information; entertainment; experience pleasure

  • Active: know when they have problems understanding and how ti resolve these problems as they occur

  • Findings from research:

  • Text comprehension can be improved by instruction that helps readers use specific comprehension strategies

    1. Monitoring comprehension (identify where difficulty occurs, identify what the difficulty is, restate the difficult sentence or passage in their own words, look back through the text, look forward in the text for information that might help them to resolve the difficulty)

    2. Using graphic and semantic organisers (can help readers focus on concepts and how they are related to other concepts)

    3. Answering questions (focuses students' attention on what they are to learn)

    4. Generating questions (improves active processing of text)

    5. Recognising story structure (also aids memory)

    6. Summarising (requires determination of what is significant in what they are reading and to condense and restate)

  • Students can be taught comprehension strategies

    * Effective comprehension strategy teaching is explicit, or direct

    * It can be accomplished through cooperative learning

    * It helps readers use comprehension strategies flexibly and in combination

  • We should emphasise text comprehension from the beginning rather than waiting until students have mastered 'the basics' of reading

  • The 6 strategies above have the strongest scientific support. The following also have some support – making use of prior knowledge; using mental imagery

The findings for the publication from which I have taken the above notes were drawn from the National Reading Panel's report Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction – Reports of the Subgroups

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Learning about learning systems

If you asked a child why they go to school, they may likely reply, "To learn." That phrase connotes an active role, which is top stuff, however, how much closer to truth would it be for many children if they replied, "To be taught"?

Now please forgive me if this is all old hat for you, but I'm at the beginning of my journey and have yet to wrap my head around it all (and I suspect this will never happen!) It just excites me to understand more and can't help but put it out there.

This year, I've had the fortune of stepping back and seeing my school from a K - 6 perspective. Early intervention is something I've only perceived from a disability and prevention standpoint. But from being involved in Kindy this year, I am now utterly convinced also about the need to set up good behaviours for learning right there in ES1 and grow from there as a culture within a school. We know this is a process that needs to be redone every year with every grade, but it is even more critical to establish this when a child enters school as it shapes his or her perception of themselves learning and of what learning (at school) means to them.

Whatever it is that we do in this regard, children are learning something, and whether this something is to their benefit or detriment is up to us. In this sense they are being taught. Let's teach 'em right!