Monthly Archives: June 2009


From the local (and only) daily newspaper here in Adelaide:

PARENTS hope new minimum teaching times for maths, English and science in South Australian primary schools will bring Australia in line with top-performing countries and lift student test scores.

Figures reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show Australia lags behind countries such as the Netherlands, France, Mexico, the UK and the Czech Republic in teaching time committed to core subjects.

On average, students in the 30 countries in the OECD spend 50 per cent of class time on reading, writing, maths and science, compared with 24 per cent in Australia. In contrast, Australian teachers have the flexibility to dictate what is taught in 59 per cent of class time, compared with just 4 per cent of flexible time as the OECD average.

Now, I have a foot in both camps here - as a teacher in the public school system that is often under the critical gaze of the SOUTH AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATION OF STATE SCHOOL ORGANISATIONS (SAAOSSO) and a parent who is represented by the same organisation. I do find it interesting that SAAOSSO's method seems to be criticising the public school system equals improving it. Anyone can cherry pick OECD statistics to present a favourable argument - I'm wondering if all of those countries who spend that time exclusively on core subjects are all out performing Australia in their literacy and numeracy achievements. Actually an actual link to the statistics being quoted in the news article would have been useful rather than assuming that the reader should take the article at face value.

And as a teacher who sees the benefit of covering SACSA outcomes in "flexible" time in the guise of Inquiry Learning, I wonder why we'd even want to strive for the OECD average of 4 %. This perception that we don't spend enough time on the "basics" is very interesting. I have heard that this call is usually because the government (or in this case, the parents' representative body) don't really have a clear vision of the future, so grasping for the past is the usual response. Just for the record, I have no problem with the State Government's call for minimum times for English, Mathematics and Science. My own timetable for my class matches those requirements pretty well - but I sense that "flexible" equals "undesirable" in this new initiative. Improving our own education system needs to focus on what is relevant for our students, not as Greg Carroll puts it so eloquently, following the ball around.

Image adapted for review purposes from the OECD Document titled ENHANCING EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE IN AUSTRALIA.

June has been a very lean month for this blog but not without good reason. This month has seen the writing of mid year reports followed by this week's full schedule of three way interviews  (parents/ student /teachers) which has sucked up most of my free planning and writing time.  I've also found myself chasing a whole bunch of Between Module Activities from a whole staff TESMC (Teaching ESL Students in Mainstream Classrooms)  course that I've been involved in. I have one more of these to do to meet minimum requirements for my certificate before the end of June, so it may well be July and the CEGSA Conference before I have the time and opportunity to write some more here.

But the interview process has been very interesting - by this time tomorrow, we will have held over thirty earnest conversations with parents and caregivers. There have been promises to strive for goals, observations shared, disappointments voiced and just occasionally that golden moment when a student shows that real sign of a self motivated, initiative seeking learner.  Thank, to Darren Draper, I re-discovered Christian Long's "Future of Learning Manifesto" (wow, I wish he was still  blogging) with my favourite extract that describes my role with these students:

Keep in mind, I may be young so I may have a hard time with that "r-tickle-a-shun" thing. That's your job. Give me the words. Give me the tools. Give me the examples. And then get out of my way.

But the second you see my passion start to go from curious lit match to smoke-jumper forest fire, stop giving me handouts and worksheets and become my Jerry McGuire.

I've got to remember to not be the wet blanket.


A bit later this year, my school will get its BER-funded library. And while we don't get that much choice about the design of the actual building, Ann my principal keeps reminding the staff that we have a lot of choice about the interior looks like. She believes (and I agree) that this is a great chance to break the mould of how a primary school library is set up and run. Re-imagining how a dynamic learning space for our school could look is an exciting opportunity that should open up new possibilities.

I personally feel excited looking at Kim Cofino's workplace, the Learning Hub at ISB, Thailand and see that is an attractive learning environment that holds what is currently good about school libraries (fiction books, magazines etc.) blended with new media areas and comfortable seating. Kim explains:

You have to give them something different. The Learning Hub (library) has to offer a physical environment that is different than other spaces teachers and students regularly use.

Not that their design doesn't need a bit of tweaking from time to time:

In our efforts to make a 21st century learning environment, we had mistakenly recreated a standard, formal classroom space at the very front of the Learning Hub, assuming that teachers would want to use it as an expanded classroom:

I'm thinking that a few things need to go - a traditional computer lab isn't really needed in a school that is trying to go wireless and get technology out into the classrooms and why do we need any reference books that are not digital? I suppose one of the greatest challenges about a blank slate (aka the empty shell of a building) is prioritising the possibilities and actually picturing how it all might fit together.

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