The Literacy Project: intial thoughts

I have been thinking about The Literacy Project and what I hoped to get out of it, and thought I would write down my thinking so far.

The low literacy level of the students at my prac school was something that surprised me and was quite confronting. I’ve always been a reader, and although I find  reading academic texts difficult (it’s a very different style of reading that I am still coming to terms with), I tear through a novel or two a week and have for as long as I can remember. Seeing students who, in Year 8, have trouble comprehending basic texts and writing their own name was quite shocking.

I asked my mentor teacher about some of the students. Are they in any remedial program? Are they usually in the learning support class and are being integrated for the electives? What’s being done about this problem? Is anything being done about this problem? The answers varied depending on the student I was referring to. Some students were from refugee families who attended ESL classes. Some students were in the LSC, having been formally identified as needing intensive, extra help with their literacy and numeracy. The students that worried me the most were those not in any of these programs. As my mentor teacher put it, ‘some students just fall through the cracks’.

During prac I observed numerous occasions where low literacy led to disengagement or behavioural issues. I saw a student spend an entire English lesson with their head on a desk, refusing to participate or even look up; students who would not attend class on certain days, knowing that was ‘theory’ day and there would be reading/writing involved; students who put a lot of effort into part of their assignment, but never handed it in because they couldn’t finish the writing component; and students who would deliberately misbehave in order to get sent out of class and avoid reading and writing. These were students with low literacy and not currently in a program that provided them with strategies to help them manage.

As a teacher, I found it incredibly disempowering to see these students and not know how to help them. I did implement some strategies to help students, such as always providing oral explanations of any handouts, reading out what I had written on the board, and helping students with their assessments by reading out the questions and then writing down their answers. However these aren’t permanent solutions to basic illiteracy. It’s a temporary fix as students aren’t learning to read, they are being given information in different formats. Also, strategies such as individually assessing students verbally were only possible because I was there observing and could do the assessment while my mentor teacher was with the rest of the class.

So I think what I am really interested in is strategies that can be used effectively in a classroom situation, not one-on-one, and strategies that go beyond giving students information in non-written formats, and help them learn to read the written word. I am aware that my definition of literacy for this purpose is quite traditional, and not particularly specific to my discipline of music. However, I don’t feel I can blame ‘the system’ and it’s cracks and offer short-term solutions to the students who are really struggling, then send them ont heir way at the end of the year. Also, teaching basic literacy doesn’t mean that other literacies can’t be covered. I know there is so much to teach and so many interruptions, but how can I (or any educator) watch a child who can barely write their name disengage from school, and not do anything about it?

Sure, you can argue that someone else should have done something earlier, but I what can I do now?

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Fun or Facts?

Wayne teaches at an inner city public high school. While he is really excited about his new job close to the inner city suburb where he lives and went to university, he’s finding that not all the students share his enthusiasm for learning. Wayne really enjoys the subject matter of his senior classes and spends a large proportion of his planning time ensuring he has the depth of content covered. However he is finding that his class is falling into two groups. In one a group a number of apparently highly motivated students are intellectually pushing him. Another group seems to consist of students who don’t really want be there. Both groups are causing Wayne concern as it appears that the ‘motivated’ group don’t engage at a deep level and instead want to know the ‘correct’ answers, while the ‘less motivated’ group are difficult for him to engage. A number of students seem to be distracted at school, he thinks they are tired or have perhaps been using drugs and alcohol. He is also concerned that a number of students seem anxious and fearful of not getting into the nearby University. When talking about his situation with a friend Wayne realised he is torn between the need to make learning interesting and relevant for a number of his students and the pressure from others to prepare for the end of school exams.

In the last sentence of this scenario we see that Wayne views engaging learning activities and exam preparation as mutually exclusive events. From Wayne’s perspective, learning the content and processes required to pass exams is incompatible with a learning environment that helps students become and remain motivated. Wayne also seems to view some students as responding only to the extrinsic motivation of exam, not the intrinsic motivation of personally fulfilling, interesting learning. However, high levels of intrinsic motivation and engagement are more likely to produce deeper, more lasting understanding because they are engaging their emotions (Mayer, in Churchill, 2011, p. 118), which could result in better exam results for students.

Martin, A., (2002)

No two students are alike and so there are a variety of different motivational goals that Wayne needs to consider in his classroom. Martin (2002) examined a variety of motivational theories with the aim of synthesising them to provide teachers with a framework to use in the classroom. Martin suggests this model is relevant to a variety of students, including students not interested learning and high achievers who need to be sustained (2002, p. 45). Wayne has both these types of students in his class, and increasing motivation boosters in his class may help him engage these learners into more active, in-depth participation.

Martin places high emphasis on the importance of self-efficacy in motivating and engaging students (2002, p. 42), a sentiment echoed in the literature by many (Bandura, 1993; Zyngier, 2004). For students to have high self-efficacy, it is important that they experience success in the tasks they complete. It is possible that Wayne’s students are not engaged because the work they are doing in class is not at the appropriate level and they are not experiencing success. To tackle this problem, Wayne should implement some strategies to ensure that all member of the class can succeed at the tasks set in class.

One strategy would be for Wayne to discover the ZPD of all learners in his class. Pre-assessment would give Wayne a more accurate picture of the zones of the students in his class. Armed with this information, Wayne then needs to plan lessons that take into account the needs of his students, such as learning styles, ZPDs and intelligences, by implementing lessons that incorporate Bloom’s Taxonomy, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, and learning contracts. This will give students choice in their lessons, and allow them to learn in a variety of styles and levels. By also providing a variety of teaching aids, such as videos, posters, study skills and strategies, and scaffolding learners so that learning is challenging yet successful, students will have feelings of greater control and self-efficacy.

By increasing motivation levels within the classroom as per Martin’s framework, and by implementing some learning strategies that allow for student’s individual differences and interests, Wayne will be able to prepare his students for their exam and still make learning interesting and relevant for all students. Indeed, it is essential that students are emotionally engaged in order to foster deeper understandings in learning. Wayne needs to prepare his students by making learning relevant and interesting, not instead of.

Bandura, A., (1993). Perceived Self-Efficacy in Cognitive Development and Functioning. Educational Psychologist. 28(2), pp. 117-148.

Churchill et al., (2011). Teaching: making a difference. Milton, Queensland: John Wiley & Sons Australia.

Martin, A., (2002). Motivation and academic resilience: developing a model for student enhancement. Australian Journal of Education. 46(1), pp. 34-49.

Zyngier, D. (2005). Doing education not doing time. Engaging Pedagogies and Pedagogues – what does student engagement look like in action? AARE 2004 Conference: Doing the Public Good: Positioning Education Research. Retrieved 26 April 2011 from http://monash.academia.edu/DavidZyngier/Papers/93298/Doing_education_not_doing_time._Engaging_Pedagogies_and_Pedagogues_-_what_does_student_engagement_look_like_in_action

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Ed Foundations Comment

I am commenting on Kyle’s post which can be found here.

I really enjoyed Kyle’s post and think it gave a clear summary of the problem: that stress, such as the pressure of an upcoming exam or assignment deadline, can cause the brain to create hormones and chemicals that prevent successful learning. He also provided a number of useful for suggestions to help create a less stressful classroom environment.

However, the exam pressure will still be there, especially for students studying in states that have centralised exams for university entrance. Pintrich & de Groot (1990) found a negative relationship between test anxiety and both self-efficacy and self-regulation. The comments of students in this study revealed that although test anxiety didn’t impinge  on the students’ ability to process and organise new knowledge, test anxiety did prevent them from retrieving the information in an exam setting. It is therefore important not only for the students’ results, but for their self-efficacy, to teach students strategies to cope with anxiety.

The first step Wayne could take to specifically help alleviate exam stress is to teach his students about how their brains work. Teaching students what is occurring in their brains when they are nervous, and how this manifests in physical and mental symptoms, demystifies the situation and can help empower students. It can help students feel more in control of their bodies and their emotions. Secondly, Wayne should explain and model anxiety management strategies to the students, and give them opportunities to practice these in the safety of the classroom to find out which ones work for them. This will result in more self-aware, self-regulated learners who not only are prepared to take and exam, but feel prepared to take an exam.

Pintrich, P., de Groot, E., (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology. 82(1) pp. 33-40.

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Ed Founds Comment

I’ve written this post in response to ‘Tracy’s Troubles’ by jennifercolley

I haven’t met Jennifer in person but found her post interesting, and am keen to comment from the perspective of the material from Module D of Ed Foundations.

I completely agree with Jennifer when she says that the students at Tracy’s school are more likely to learn if the focus is taken off the exams and instead directed towards providing more engaging, experience-based learning activities. This view is supported by social cognition theory, which describes students as active learners whose motivation is closely linking to their self-efficacy (Churchill, 2011, p. 116).

It is possible that Tracy’s school, being new, is in the outer metropolitan areas and is traditionally in a lower-performing, lower socio-economic area. As a new school, they are concerned with promoting a good image to the local community and are putting effort into those aspects of education readily noticed by the wider public: uniforms and publicly available test results. However, if the school constantly focusses on improving standardised test scores, students are subtly being told that their current efforts are not good enough, resulting in lowered self-efficacy and lower motivation. Students who are told their results are poor are less likely to believe in their ability to succeed at other tasks.

This does raise the question ‘To whom am I accountable?’ – To parents and executive staff, who want numerical ‘proof’ that their school is successful, or to students, who deserve an education that is not only cognitively appropriate, but meets their social, emotional and motivational needs, or both?

References:

Churchill, R. et al., (2011). Teaching: making a difference. Milton, Queensland: John Wiley & Sons.

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Keeping Students Safe and Feeling Safe

The last STS1 lecture of the semester, Early Childhood Trauma Experience and Learning, was a timely reminder that the students we will be teaching have many previous experiences, and not all positive. Some students may have experienced trauma in their lives. The trauma may not be recent, and the effects of the trauma on the student may not be immediately noticeable. However as covered in the lecture, the brain views any new stimuli as a possible threat and result in a stress response until proven safe (slide 16). This response is heightened in students who have experienced trauma during early childhood. It is therefore important to provide environments that not only are safe, but feel safe for the students (What do my students need from me?).

This reminded me of Kerry’s discussion of milieu, or the general classroom atmosphere, at the beginning of the semester. PPLE tutorials have provided many examples of activities we can use to help create classroom community of learners (a positive milieu), rather than room of disconnected individual, such as circle time, Think-Pair-Share and three-minute writing. PPLE has also emphasised the importance of good pedagogy (and STS1 topic) in preventing behaviour management issues. Sue Packer’s lecture also emphasised how important it is to have knowledge of the way the brain develops in childhood and adolescence, a topic covered in Education Foundations.

I am seeing the links and connections between these discrete units, and how the theories and techniques learnt in the different units are combining to inform our teaching practice.

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Getting the Point Across: How will they know what I mean?

My STS1 oral presentation involved the presentation of a mini-lesson using cooperative learning to help students compare and contrast two pieces of music. I felt a bit uncomfortable at the time, as it is a slightly strange situation to be teaching one’s peers. However, reflecting back over the experience, my unease went a bit deeper, and I think it was down to the explaining part of the lesson.

I had run over the lesson several times in my head, and it made sense, and I knew what I was going to say. But when it actually came to saying it, I don’t think I made myself clear enough about how the activity would work.

The text Promoting Student Learning (Cornish, L. & Garner, J., 2009) devotes pages 128-150 to the skill of explaining. After reading this, I realised I was attempting a procedural explanation (how to form groups and complete  worksheet), and was too vague in my explanation. I could see the groups forming in my head, but had not put enough thought into the specific, step by step instructions I would need to give a class of students who were new to this activity.

So, what will my students need from me? Clear, concise, well structured explanations, and a variety of ways of explaining the same thing to suit different learners. In future, I will be practicing my lessons not just in my head, but out loud to my teddy, the lamp, my husband, whoever is walking down the street. Because how things sound in our heads isn’t always how it sounds out loud.

Cornish, L. & Garner, J. (2009). Promoting Student Learning. Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Education Australia.

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Pedagogical Disconnect

Bate, F. (2010)

This study details the attitudes towards ICT of 35 beginning teachers, and how they change over the first three years of their teaching career. It found that there was a discrepancy between the students stated pedagogical aims and philosophies, and how they utilised ICT in their classrooms. Reasons for their change in attitude included lack of reliable resources, lack of support from other staff, and lack of time to plan lessons that use ICT (Bate, 2009).

Like the work of Mishra & Koehler (2006) and Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010), Bates also shows the interconnectedness of factors that lead teachers to reject the use of ICT (2010, Figure 1, reproduced above). However, I think that perhaps the study of different factors can sometimes lead to overlooking the over-arching reason for ICT rejection: teachers won’t use ICT in their classroom if they don’t believe it will bring results, or if, when they use, it fails to bring results.

To successfully integrate ICT into my classroom, I will need to look at the interconnected issues, such as those set out by Bates (2010), examine my own beliefs, consolidate my knowledge with the help of a framework such as TPCK, and ensure that I am using ICT in a way that aligns practice with my own educational philosophy, needs of my students and the culture of my school. If things aren’t successful, it is important to reflect, change and try again, rather than give up on such a vital part of today’s education.

Bate, F., (2009). A bridge too far? Explaining beginning teachers’ use of ICT in Australian schools. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 26(7), 1042-1061. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/bate.html

Ertmer, P. & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2010). Teacher Technology Change: How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 42(3), 255-284. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=EJ882506

Mishra, P. & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge. Teacher College Record. 108(6), 1017-1054.

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New Directions

Looking back over my posts, I can see that my original attempt at a framework for examining teachers’ use of ICT in the classroom is no longer useful to me. Firstly, I am finding it almost impossible to separate the various ‘factors’ that lead to successful integration. Reliable, up-to-date equipment won’t be purchased without support from the school leadership, and a supportive school culture will often result from good equipment and a supportive leadership. I have discovered that knowing how to use technology is, by itself, not enough to lead to a change in teaching practice (Hammond et al., 2009).

The TPCK model (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) places good teaching at the intersection of technological, pedagogical and content knowledge, acknowledging the complex relationship between all these factors. This model helps us reflect on our teaching, probably as teachers who are already sold on the notion that teaching with ICT is not only better, but necessary in modern education. However, TPCK does not help me understand why teachers aren’t sold on the idea in the first place. Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010, p. 255) set out a model that explains teacher change as a result of the intersection of knowledge, confidence, beliefs and culture, which I refer to as KCBC

As a pre-service teacher I have found the idea of combining the ideas of TPCK and KCBC very helpful. Although I believe that using ICT in education is essential, and have a growing knowledge of technology, my confidence that I am able to use it in a educationally meaningful manner is not fully developed. I need then to use  TPCK to unpack my understanding of the relationships between technology, pedagogy and content, to improve my understanding of how to integrate technology in the classroom. More knowledgeable, I hope to be more confident and more likely to make the decision to be an agent of technological change in the classroom.

Ertmer, P. & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2010). Teacher Technology Change: How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 42(3), 255-284. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=EJ882506

Hammond, M., Crosson, S., Fragkouli, E., Ingram, J., Johnston-Wilder, P., Johnston-Wilder, S., Kingston, Y., Pope, M. & Wray, D. (2009). Why do some student teachers make very good use of ICT? An exploratory case study, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 18(1), 59 — 73.
DOI: 10.1080/14759390802704097. Retreived from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14759390802704097

Mishra, P. & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge. Teacher College Record. 108(6), 1017-1054.

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ICT rejection – What can I do to change things for the better?

I came across this article that examines factors surrounding the usage of ICT in the classroom, and it has made me think about the issue in a different light. Previously, I had categorised factors into physical, knowledge and pedagogical/philosophical. This article looks at factors in terms of “non-manipulative and manipulative school and teacher factors” (Afshari, Abu Bakar, Su Luan, Abu Samah & Say Fooi, 2009, p. 79).

Non-manipulative factors are those that can not be influenced by a school and it’s teachers, things like government policy and the age and teaching experience of existing teachers (Afshari et al., 2009, p. 79). Manipulative factors are obviously the opposite: things on which a school and teachers can affect change. As a pre-service teacher, this resonated with me, and has encouraged me to think about this issue from the view of an active participant who can change things, rather than as a distant observer of a problem.

It can be tempting to read much of the research on this issue and think ‘Well, this is someone else’s problem: the principal needs to lead more, the IT staff need to provide more reliable equipment, the school needs to provide more PD’. However, the importance of school culture, and each individual’s role in that culture can not be overlooked. Afshari et al. (p. 97) conclude their article with four main requirements for generating increased use of ICT in schools, two of which I, as an educator can directly act upon. I can share my knowledge with other teachers, and develop and maintain partnerships with other educators and organisers. I can’t do everything, but I can do something to help change the culture of my school.

Afshari, M., Abu Bakar, K., Su Luan, W., Abu Samah, B. & Say Fooi, F. (2009). Factors affecting teachers’ use of information and communication technology. International Journal of Instruction, 2(1), 77-104. Retrieved from http://www.e-iji.net/dosyalar/iji_2009_1_5.pdf

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The Knowledge Barrier – fact or fiction?

My previous post discussed the categories into which factors preventing the use of ICT in the classroom can fall. Lack of knowledge and skills is cited by many as a barrier to teachers using ICT resources in their teaching and learning activities (Bingimlas, 2009; Churchill et al., 2011, p. 314). However, if one of the main problems in integrating ICT into the classroom is merely a lack of ICT literacy, especially amongst older teachers, then surely it is a problem that is easy to fix. If so, how come it hasn’t been fixed by now?

I then read this article by Hammond et al. (2009, p.61) that cited research that, with student teachers at least, functional ICT literacy is not as important as initially thought when determining if teachers will use ICT in their lessons. Instead, it is more likely to be a pedagogical belief that ICT can make a difference in the classroom that leads student teachers to adopt ICT (Hammond,  2009, p. 71).

I was particularly interested in this study, because by studying student teachers (generally a younger demographic than practicing teachers), the ‘generational divide’ is if not removed, it is at least lessened. As a soon-to-be teacher of music, a subject that has a long tradition of apprentice-style training, and an historical educational divide between practice and theory, I sometimes fear I will not capitalise on my familiarity with ICT and incorporate it into the classroom. There is sometimes a rationale from teachers that if ICT-free was ok for Mozart and Brahms, it’s ok for my students too. However, I believe that today’s student is growing up in a radically different society where information is the greatest commodity, and that students need to be taught skills process this information, including using it in creative and musical contexts. Being more clear about my own pedagogical understandings and beliefs, and how they can be applied in the music classroom will help me in this.

Bingimlas, K. A. (2009). Barriers to the Successful Integration of ICT in Teaching and Learning Environments: A Review of the Literature. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology Education. 5(3), 235-245. Retrieved from http://www.ejmste.com/v5n3/EURASIA_v5n3_Bingimlas.pdf

Churchill et al., (2011). Teaching: making a difference. Milton, Qld: John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd.

Hammond, M., Crosson, S., Fragkouli, E., Ingram, J., Johnston-Wilder, P., Johnston-Wilder, S., Kingston, Y., Pope, M. & Wray, D. (2009). Why do some student teachers make very good use of ICT? An exploratory case study, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 18(1), 59 — 73.
DOI: 10.1080/14759390802704097. Retreived from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14759390802704097

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