Teacher Staffroom Episode 2: It's award season

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Thanks for downloading this episode of Teacher Staffroom – where we catch you up on the latest evidence, insight and action. I'm Dominique Russell.

Teacher Staffroom is an opportunity to change the pace a little, and really take some time out with your colleagues to discuss what implications the content we've covered recently could have for your own school setting. You'll hear me posing some questions throughout the episode, so you can chat about your thoughts with co-workers, and let us know where those conversations end up.

This is a two-way discussion. We'd really like to hear from you – your thoughts, questions and how you're adapting things for your own classroom. We'll be keeping an eye out on Twitter so you can reach us there, or Facebook or by leaving a comment in the transcript of this podcast – you'll find that at our website, which is teachermagazine.com.au.

Now, our team caught up with a number of award winning educators recently. We featured some articles on the recipients of some Science and Music teacher prizes, and, of course, the winner of the 2019 Global Teacher Prize – who we found out just this week is Peter Tabichi from Kenya.

Peter's a Maths and Science Teacher and his school is based in rural, remote Kenya. On top of his teaching responsibilities, he's known for teaching members of the community how to grow drought resistant crops and that's all in order to get on top of the increasing levels of food insecurity. He also donates 80 per cent of his monthly salary to community projects. And I found it so heart-warming that Peter had this to say about his school:

‘I'm immensely proud of my students. We lack facilities that many schools take for granted. As a teacher, I just want to have a positive impact, not only on my country but the whole of Africa.'

You might have also seen that an Australian educator, Yasodai Selvakumaran, was a Top 10 finalist for the prize. She teaches History and Society and Culture at Rooty Hill High School in New South Wales, and she's been recognised for achieving consistently high results for a school that performs usually just below state average. We had her on for another podcast episode a few days ago, and I found her description of her teaching philosophy especially interesting.

‘…to me social justice has always been linked to human rights and I guess even going into education to be a teacher, it was that firm belief that I believe that education was one of the rights that everybody should have access to and we need to work continuously to make sure that when there are barriers – so students being able to even come to school at times or to be able to achieve, we need to be able to see what they are and be able to respond to that.'

So, considering what Yasodai's said just there, here's a discussion point to consider. In what ways do you, as a teacher, use your own personal experiences to relate to students and build strong relationships? It'd be great to hear your perspective on that one.

Now, while we're on the topic of podcasts, you can't go past our special episode with Dylan Wiliam that we published at the beginning of this month. It's a 20 minute episode all about effective questioning in the classroom. He summarised the idea pretty well, when he mentioned this:

‘So the big idea, in terms of classroom questioning, is ‘how good is the evidence you have?' – and if you're only hearing from the confident students, you can't be making decisions that reflect the learning needs of a diverse group of 25 or 30 students. So it's about broadening the evidence base, getting better evidence of what's happening in the heads of the students in the classroom, there and then.'

It's an interesting point there about broadening the evidence base. So, I want to ask another question. How good, would you say, the evidence is that you're collecting – would you say you are you only hearing from confident students when you ask your class a question?

He also told us about what he calls ‘hinge questions'. And here's how he explained what they are:

‘So, if you've got a 45 minute lesson, 20 minutes in check that the students are still with you. The idea is, you write a question that you include as part of your design of the lesson and “at this point I'm going to check that the students are still with me” – and I carefully plan the question I'm going to ask at that point, so I can get some kind of response from every single student.'

That brings up another interesting discussion point. If you think this approach could work with your students, maybe think about an upcoming lesson. What are the misconceptions your students might have? Maybe you could use that information as a starting point for planning a hinge question.

Now, you also probably know the name Scott Maxwell. Last year, he was named the ARIA Music Teacher of the Year for 2018. He teaches music in Mt Gambier, South Australia, and he completely re-imagined music education at that school. He writes the school's musicals from scratch, makes sure there's some kind of student performance being held every two weeks and prioritises engaging all students in music, no matter what their experience level might be. I really liked what he had to say about engaging students in music education.

‘You have to make enough of a connection with students that you understand what it is that they need … they need to see their interests being represented in the material presented to them.'

He brings up an interesting point there, and I'd like to ask another question. If you're a lower secondary teacher, what strategies do you have for engaging students who come into secondary school with various experience levels and interest levels, for that matter?

We then spoke with Scott Sleap. He's the recipient of the 2018 Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. He's based in the Hunter region in New South Wales and he's teaching students all about the employment opportunities in their local STEM industry. In the article, he mentioned he looks at career education as a continuum, and explained it like this:

'At primary school we look to “engage” students, then “inspire” at high school, followed by “develop” with our tertiary education partners, with the aim for industry to “recruit”.'

Some interesting career education points also came up in an infographic we published. We explored results from a UNICEF commissioned survey, which asked students what they want from school. Among the results was the fact that 51 per cent of students would like to learn more practical recruitment skills for getting a job, and 34 per cent said they find lessons ‘boring' or ‘uninteresting'.

Now, some other exciting STEM related content from this month was the first instalment of a video series by Year 6 teacher Ben Wynne. He's from St Anthony's School in Wanneroo, Western Australia and is a bit of an expert when it comes to the STEM Video Game Challenge. If you don't know what that is, it's a challenge run in Australia that invites students in Years 5 to Year 12 to create their own, original video game. It's quite a big ask, and Ben's going to be checking in with us throughout the challenge to tell us about how his team of Year 6 students are going, and to give us some tips along the way. In his first video, which we published just yesterday, he explains why participating in the STEM Video Game Challenge has been an effective way to incorporate coding and STEM into lessons.

‘In the past, when I've done it, we've sort of just made games for the sake of making games, with no end target in mind, no authentic goal which ended up with students losing motivation and never really finishing. This time they had an authentic goal. They knew it was going to be entered into the competition, they knew that everyone's game was going to be entered into the competition, regardless of what stage they got to. They were going to have to submit something that was finished. So, that helped them all maintain motivation to actually keep working through what is quite a long project.'

That was Ben Wynne there, and make sure to subscribe to Teacher on YouTube so you don't miss any of his next videos.

Two of our columnists also updated us this month. Firstly, we heard from Andreas Schleicher, and he delved into the trends in education and how they might impact the future lives and work of young people. On career education, he had this interesting point to make:

‘For those with the right knowledge and skills, digitalisation and globalisation have been liberating and exciting; but for those who are insufficiently prepared, they can mean vulnerable and insecure work, and a life without prospects.'

Considering that somewhat confronting statement, I want to pose another discussion point. As an educator, how are you ensuring your students have the right knowledge and skills to navigate the world of work in the future? And, what messages would you say you're conveying to students about future education and occupation possibilities?

And, finally, Sue Thomson recently discussed data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study results, or how you probably better know it as: TIMSS. In the article, she spoke about student perceptions on how safe they feel at school and I found it particularly interesting when she wrote this on the relationship between mathematics achievement and perception of school safety:

‘Achievement was analysed in mathematics at both Year 4 and Year 8 for both groups of students. At Year 4, girls who agreed a lot that they felt safe at school achieved, on average, 17 score points higher in mathematics and 10 score points higher in science than those who felt less safe in school (achievement scales have a mean of 500 and a standard deviation of 100). For Year 4 boys, safety in school mattered a little bit more than it did for girls, with the differences 19 score points in mathematics and 12 score points in science.'

Now, that brings up another question. I wonder if you've ever considered if a similar correlation would be relevant in your school context – it'd be a great thing to discuss, and we'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

Well, that's it for this episode of Teacher Staffroom and our wrap-up on the latest evidence, insight and action in education. If you want to access anything I've mentioned, you'll find all the links at our website. That's also where you'll find the sign up form for our email bulletin, which delivers our new content directly to your inbox each week.

And, remember, we'd love to hear from you. Don't forget to get in touch with any questions or reflections on this episode.

You've been listening to a podcast from Teacher magazine, supported by Seven Steps to Writing Success. The Seven Steps writing program transforms student writing from Foundation to Year 10. Best of all, it's so engaging that students love it! Training, resources and online membership options are available, so visit sevenstepswriting.com for more information.