Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Practicum Teachers

There is another side of taking practicum teachers - the side where the teacher instructors benefit.  A good practicum teacher is worth their weight in gold.  Some of the reasons for taking a practicum student:

  • They are the bees of education, cross pollinating ideas from one school to another and from their own educational background
  • They bring enthusiasm into the classroom
  • They are an extra pair of eyes, ears and hands
  • They lack pre-conceived notions and challenge the status quo
  • They bring fresh ideas, a level of innocence and hope
  • They lack some of our cynicism and crustiness
  • It forces us to re-evaluate our own teaching practices
  • They bring youthfulness into teaching staff
  • It provides some longevity to our own learning when seen in their teaching

Most of all they can be a lot of fun. Once in your fourth or fifth year, I'd heartily recommend taking one for a term.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lesson plans

I think every practicum teacher goes through questioning why lesson plans are useful.  Some find them odious and don't see the value of creating something that rarely executes as expected.  As a teacher instructor, I find lesson plans a real insight into what is intended by a practicum teacher.  As a tool it forces the practicum student to think about what they intend to do, before doing it.  The lesson plan also provides an opportunity for feedback between the teacher instructor and practicum teacher that can be done before a lesson is run (rather than the trite comment given by teacher instructors with the benefit of hindsight after the lesson).

A quick look at a lesson plan can provide a teacher instructor a wealth of information about how a practicum teacher is travelling.  Here are some things that I look at within a lesson plan.

  • Has the teacher connected the lesson to prior learning?
  • Is timing adequately considered?
  • Is the scope of the lesson being managed?
  • Are the main teaching points identified?
  • Is the level proposed appropriate for the students?
  • Is there adequate opportunity for students to demonstrate competence?

Without a reasonably detailed and well thought out lesson plan, practicum  teachers are placed on the back foot, forever reacting to issues rather than predicting issues and developing skills and knowledge to compensate.  By setting clear goals for performance before a lesson practicum teachers are able to see improvement measured against the goals of the lesson plan.

A note of warning, lesson plans on practicum have a finite life, as practicum teachers start taking full load, timing constraints limit their effectiveness (and can cause burnout towards the end of ten week practicum if detailed lesson plans are pursued).   The full benefit of a lesson plan is gained whilst a practicum students is ramping up. Even with this limitation, lesson plans (for all their odious nature), tied to reflective practices after a lesson, provide practicum teachers a platform to develop their fledgling skills into skilled teaching practitioners.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Classroom presence

I asked a colleague to talk to my practicum student about teaching.. Often a colleague has different viewpoints on teaching and can get to the nub of a problem faster than I can. There was some great advice about establishing presence in a classroom.

Establish space between the whiteboard and the class >1.5m
- use this as performance space. Move towards the class for emphasis and towards the board when teaching.

Establish modes of voice.
- develop a range of tones that can be used to indicate pleasure/displeasure, tied to a range of volumes

Develop affectations to your teaching
- Tapping a whiteboard marker can be more effective than shouting, as can removing or looking over your glasses.

Change your travel path
- ensure that your travel path is giving attention to all students and is not just a convenient way to travel a room.

All of these things will change your presence in the room and were good ideas. I would add a few more - wait for quiet before starting instruction (be patient.. 5 seconds is longer than you think), establish a spot so students know to be quiet when you are standing in it when waiting for attention, ensure that you are giving positive and negative feedback, be warm but not overly friendly and welcome students on entry.

I'm sure there are many more!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Practicum teachers & Teacher instructors

Practicum is the gateway to the profession.  It ensures new teachers have the experience to have their own classroom and sets clear expectations of performance outside of an tertiary academic environment.

Practicum teachers are a resource that is relatively infinite.  Good practicum teachers are not.  Teaching is an attractive profession to students as it is a familiar environment and one where students see infinite room for improvement.  This gloss can come off to some degree during practicum.

Teachers instructors come in a range of colours and shapes.  Aggressive/passive, lazy/committed,  skilled/enthusiastic (grin),  assessment driven/programme driven and with a range of teaching styles.

Good/bad teacher instructors are relative judgements. They make and break practicum teachers.  Let's see some of the pitfalls for practicum instructors

  • Providing insufficient opportunities to fail
  • Giving insufficient guidance on expectations
  • Providing inadequate encouragement
  • Assuming complete content knowledge
  • Providing inadequate written response
  • Creating insufficient opportunities to show initiative
  • Insufficient direction/focus
  • Insufficient guidance on required scaffolding
  • Overestimating diagnostic abilities
  • Assumption of teaching skills (photocopying, marking, using equation editor, CAS calculator usage, fxdraw, whiteboard usage, interactive whiteboards)

When we look at an incomplete list such as this and then overlay behavior management (which is the usually the primary focus of practicum) we start to realise the hurdle that practicum teachers face.  When I hear about accelerated teaching programmes that reduce the time for undergraduate teaching degrees I fear that policy makers are underestimating the impact that good teacher instructors can make.  Furthermore they are underestimating the impost of the shifting of responsibility from the student during practicum, to the teacher during their first year of teaching.  This will be borne by experienced staff and administration dealing with issues typically dealt with on practicum.

Good teacher instructors are using their full range of abilities to ensure that practicum teachers are maintaining their confidence at appropriate levels and by ensuring student learning is continuing.  The ability of the system to identify good potential teachers is based around the practicum system and bypassing this system has potential for lowering teaching standards further.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Apologies where due.

After re-reading my last post, I had a think back to my last performance management review.  Being a male, performance reviews, when I did them, focused on performance.  What had a person done, how had it been done, how could it be done better.  It focused on skills had, skills developed, skills required and skills gained since the previous review.

I learned something from my last performance management.  I lacked soft skills when performance managing.  A good manager knows their staff and steps in to remind them when they are not looking after themselves and can step in and make changes.  I always did this under my management premise rather than under performance management - but I can see how it could fit here too.  If a staff member is not looking after themselves, if home life is not taken into account - performance will suffer.  By talking through the issues (rather than just making the changes) a staff member can become empowered to better manage themselves.

Revising my original statement, under my usage of performance management, admin is poorly suited to analysing content provision and pedagogy due to time and skills constraints.  Using their experience to assist in management of self is a good use of their time, as they see continuous snapshots of staff behaviour and can spot when a staff member is struggling.  Reviewing how often this is occurring is a valid use of performance management time.

I'm lucky in this respect as my line manager (and even indirectly my principal) has had to step in a number of times to remind me of my limitations before I started something I couldn't finish.  For that I am thankful.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rewards for great teachers

Money for teachers.. Aimed at rewarding 10% of teachers.  For what?  Great teachers?  My issue with this idea is that government couldn't recognise a peer recognised 'great teacher' if peers erected a 60 foot high arrow above the teacher's head. I have real doubts at the success of this Commonwealth initiative.

Here are the proposed criteria for rewards circulated by Ms Gillard:

  • Lesson observations
  • Student performance data (including NAPLAN and school based information that can show the valued added by particular teachers)
  • Parental feedback
  • Teacher qualifications and professional development undertaken.

It seems the majority of the criteria is through administration based appraisal.  Staff who have been through an appraisal process know why teachers are cynical about their effectiveness.  The general summary is that deputies cannot assess subjects out of their own prior learning area on anything but behavioural matters.  These processes are time consuming and have little priority.  Outcomes from these meetings are negligible.  They are a hoop to jump each year.  I'm not having a poke at admin, they're busy and have a job to do - staff appraisal is not one well suited to them.

Lesson observations are generally futile given the amount of feedback that comes from them.  Without HoDs or subject superintendents, lesson observations only assess classroom management and this can vary greatly from day to day based on happenings within the school or within the home.  They are snapshots done maybe once a year.

How does the government expect this whole process to happen?  Who will pay for the time to collect this information, analyse it and present it for "approval" by government?  Where is the incentive for teachers that make huge differences in childrens lives outside the academic sphere?

Here is a cynical look at the process for gaining the money: 

Step 1: Prepare a lesson with little effective learning that is flashy
Step 2: Overteach NAPLAN and identify students that you can make large value adds and teach the class at that level
Step 3: Make sure parents put nice things about you on a "rate my teacher" type website (the alternative is ridiculous as it is near impossible to get a detailed questionnaire filled in a low socioeconomic school).  Challenge every poor parental response vigorously
Step 4: Seek spurious professional development to bolster your claim
Step 5: Fill out a wad of paper that takes inordinate amounts of time away from the classroom.  Sing your own praises until you sound like God's gift to teaching.
Step 6: Wait 8-24 months for your application to be appraised by a highly efficicent organisation such as WACOT.  Wait another 8-24 months for it to be approved.

I see absolutely nothing here that actually improves student performance, that leads to to gaining employment or higher education.  If the government wants to see this failed model in action - go seek out L3CT's or the WACOT registration and renewal process (that this sounds very similar to and has similarly been highly?? successful).  It's not the best teachers that succeed in these process, generally it's those with a lot of time on their hands and those willing to gild the lily.

This needs to be reconsidered and focussed on where a difference can be made.

Reward those that teach at the highest level (stage three subjects). Reward those in specialist programmes for disengaged students. Reward those in special needs areas. Reward those that consistently get students into university, apprentiships and TAFE courses. Reward those that go beyond their teaching requirements and still do an admirable job in the classroom.  Reward those recognised by peers as exemplary teachers.  Make people aspire to these levels to improve their teaching. There is nothing else easily measurable that teachers do.

NAPLAN in particular does not measure what one teacher has achieved.

Rewards should be an incentive to continue doing a good job.  If people keep doing a good job, keep rewarding them year after year after year.  Strangely enough, seniority captures this more effectively than performance management (generally, teachers that have taught longer are better teachers - those that can't quit or are encouraged to move on).  Couple seniority to more flexible staff movements and a better mix should be possible.

If the government wants change, improve teacher training (increase the subject specific content level appropriate for teaching), recentralise staffing with a focus on school performance rather than 'bums on seats' (moving these higher paid expert teachers into areas they are most required) and install monitors on learning areas such as subject superintendents for each region and HoDs in schools.  Improve pay rates and ensure that schools have the ability to move staff on.  Allow schools to focus on become specialist learning institutions to compete with private schools.  Provide assistance to deal with difficult students outside the general education system (this is where private organisations should be funded - to do the work government doesn't/can't do - rather than becoming a dumping ground for private schools).

The media release is here for those that want to poke a stick at it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

IOTY nomination 2011

The IOTY has been won by Julia Gillard before, but she continues to make a fool of herself to draw headlines away from real problems, by creating new ones.

Her latest brainwave is to reward teachers that improve NAPLAN scores.  Hey, I'm all for taking money from the government for doing nothing.  Let's see how it will work.

Year 7 teacher gets a bunch of students that have fallen behind.  He works hard with them but he has no hope of preparing these kids for massive improvement before the test.  They are tested in May 2011 and perform miserably compared to their 2009 Year 5 NAPLAN scores.  Sorry.. no bonus for you.   Regardless, with the support of a great administration he continues to work with his kids and they improve dramatically.

The next year the year 8 teacher is good too and the kids continue to improve in 2012.  Sorry... no bonus for you. We don't test NAPLAN in year 8.

One year nine teacher focuses on teaching the kids how to solve NAPLAN problems.  These kids do very well at NAPLAN in May.  Job well done, the teacher plays guitar the rest of the year, the kids learn very little and the teacher gets a nice fat bonus.  Upper school?  That's someone else's problem.

Another year nine teacher for similar kids focuses on what year 10 students need to understand and provides a sequenced course.  Her NAPLAN scores are not as good but are a more accurate representation of the level of the students.  No bonus for you.  She is invited to find a new job next year as she is under performing despite being popular with kids, parents and upper school teachers.

Upper school teachers get jacked off with the system and start applying for middle school roles.  Teachers in the upper school become less skilled and results suffer.  Nobody really cares because school performance is measured primarily through the 10 months of NAPLAN teaching rather than over the whole 5 years.

Of course this is based on gross speculation, but considering her past performance and lack of ability to heed advice or public opinion, a more than likely scenario.

Julia Gillard, you truly deserve to be renominated as Idiot of the Year for 2011.  You are an idiot.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Marble run

Spending time with my daughter has been fun and inspiring. Today we were playing with her marble run. Best $40 I've spent for some time.. She fed the run for at least half an hour. I'm guessing she likes the feeling of starting something that continues for some time without any real effort.

Teaching is like that sometimes.. The summer school started three years ago and I was unable to participate this year, yet it continued. Similarly I am now working with the maths academy kids trying to set something that will grow into a lasting benefit to the school. The programmes we wrote are still being used and adapted. I think the knack is to take ownership until it is working and then gradually step back, keeping an eye and maintaining the vision of the project. If you don't do this you are not really contributing to the school, just your own resumes... The project will die as soon as you leave.

Hopefully the same will occur with the Naplan analysis that we are doing this year.

Similarly, starting things and expecting others to finish it is a common path to failure. A lack of adequate committment and management results in underdeveloped projects with resentment by the participants - those thrown into the breach. Worst of all are the managers that take credit when the project succeeds despite the odds through someone else taking ownership.