Addressing concerns about Australian students’ performance

The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) global report from December 2013 delivered some negative news about the Australian education system, suggesting that a generation of teenagers had dumbed down their learning. Factors such as unruly classrooms, bullying and poor results among girls in maths were addressed. As teachers strive to make a difference in the learning environment, how has Australia responded to the PISA results and what factors impact on the classroom today?

The Issues Highlighted by PISA

In 2012, one in three Australian students found themselves falling below the national baseline level in reading and science, while four-in-ten flunked maths. ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research) is keen for this academic slide to stop, but it needs government intervention. Sue Thompson, the author of the PISA Australian chapter, claims that students here are not equipped with the skills they need to enter adult life and that there are fewer leading students with good grades. Increased spending has not impacted on results, as Australia had a 44 per cent increase in educational spending in the last decade and yet continues to decline in the international rankings.

Education for the Disadvantaged

Education for the disadvantaged is a major issue and one that has been seen as being under-invested in during the past. Social class origins are being seen as key to understanding how students learn and the attitudes they bring with them to the classroom. Parents’ wealth and occupational status are factors of this, with many youngsters or their parents not making informed choices because they are unaware of the opportunities of various learning incentives. Children with learning difficulties are being supported more effectively now, and are given help with concentration skills and behavioral issues to enable them to connect with their learning environments. Studies show that concentration levels can be enhanced with motivational techniques but that also a healthy diet among different social classes is important to student learning abilities. At the heart of these studies is a general acknowledgement that education about social classes and their impact, diet and concentration and motivation in the classroom are all crucial for the sustained improvement of learning.

Educational Quality for all

ACER held a research conference earlier this month on the topic of ‘Achieving Educational Quality for all’ and this highlighted the gender differences that are impacting on results, as well as addressing plans of how to tackle these disparities. The confidence and self-esteem of students is seen as key to their learning progress, and researchers say the focus needs to be on improving participation and motivation in the classroom. Characteristics that impact on performance include the educational challenges faced by rural students as well as professional development for teachers. Professor Gore highlighted the importance of good quality pedagogy as this improves student performance and narrows the equity gap for those students who are disadvantaged.

Teaching in Australia

With the Minister for Education announcing a $22 million boost for the Teach for Australia programme in June this year, more teachers are being placed into classrooms through the fast track high caliber graduates initiative and this is reaching disadvantaged schools in rural areas. It is hoped that this will make a difference to education standards, with more students being reached and motivated by talented trainee teachers.

AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) promotes excellence in teaching throughout Australia and has professional standards for Teachers to outline teaching in schools today and how input should be of the highest quality. AITSL is working to make sure the best trainee teachers are attracted to the classroom and to ensure that they are given the best training for the job. The Government’s ‘students-first’ approach means that the onus is on engagement, motivational techniques and achievement and this is decided by the quality of teachers entering the field. From 2015 AITSL plans to be implementing the research and guidelines it has been developing to ensure quality of leadership is paramount and to improve Australia’s school ratings on a global scale.

Further Reading and Citations:

http://www.news.com.au/national/pisa-report-finds-australian-teenagers-education-worse-than-10-years-ago/story-fncynjr2-1226774541525 accessed August 2014

OECD Education Rankings 2013 Update, Ourtimes.wordpress.com, accessed August 2014

http://www.acer.edu.au (Australian Council for Educational Research: ‘Achieving Educational Quality for all’) accessed August 2014

http://www.ias.uwa.edu.au/new-critic/five/educationinequalities accessed August 2014

http://www.kwikmed.org/benefits-fish-oils-children/ accessed August 2014

OECD (2004), Education and Equity, OECD Observer, February 2004

http://smarterschools.gov.au/improve-teacher-quality Australian Government Department of Education, accessed August 2014

https://education.gov.au/australian-institute-teaching-and-school-leadership-aitsl

accessed August 2014

http://www.schooljobs.com.au/news/2014/08/15/positive-education/ 

http://www.cyh.com/healthtopics/healthtopicdetails.aspx?p=114&np=306&id=1711 Accessed August 2014

http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/learning/ Accessed August 2014

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Positive Education: When The Ultimate Aim is a Student’s Well-being

Around the world, an increasing number of schools are signing up to positive psychology methods, which aims to foster well-being and happiness in young students. Positive education theory is not as new as it seems; indeed, its roots can be traced back to earlier educational movements and theory, including the relatively recent theory of emotional intelligence, which values the different ways each child processes and applies information, and which brands the ability to interact well in a social setting (inter-personal intelligence), as an important life skill we can all learn. Positive education has been an important part of life at Geelong Grammar School since 2008 and the method is likewise used in several schools at a worldwide level.

Positive Education: Tackling Difficult Issues for the Youth

Depression is one of the most pressing challenges faced by students in Australia, with recent surveys indicating that one in three girls and one in four boys are facing this condition, with many turning to violence, substance abuse and unwanted sex because they lack the confidence to say no. These issues affect academic performance but also relationships with families and economic circles. They also pose an economic burden, since rehabilitation and therapy can incur significant costs for families. Statistics indicate that 40% of children/youths aged 12-17 have consumed a full serving of alcohol, some 17% of 15-18 year olds had sexual encounters while inebriated (which they subsequently regretted). Additionally, alcohol is a factor in the three major causes of teen death: injury, homicide and suicide. Some of the most common drugs or substances taken by those aged 12-17 include alcohol, inhalants, cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy. Some 1.7% of this group have tried cocaine, and 1.6% have tried heroin. The aim of positive education is to help raise confidence, improve communication skills and improve well-being through a multi-pronged approach, in an effort to reduce the onset of mental illness and addiction, which can begin at an early age.

Key elements of Positive Education

The positive education method is usually attributed to Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, who created a specific positive education programme for the students of  Geelong Grammar School in Victoria. Seligman defines positive education as a method that seeks to teach children “traditional skills and happiness”. The roots of positive education, however, reach further into the past,  – as early as the 1970s, when the importance of self-esteem in students first began to be appreciated and discussed. Since then, many attempts have been made to see the aim of educating as preparing the ‘whole child’ for life both within and beyond their stay at academic institutions.

Schools Teaching Positive Education

At Geelong Grammar, positive education is taught implicitly to younger students, while specific positive psychology programmes are taught to older students. At Wellington College in the UK, meanwhile, students aged 14 and 15 receive one 40-minute lesson on well-being skills every two weeks for two years. The programme helps children identify the key elements that are necessary to achieve well-being, and teaches them practical skills they can use in daily life. Other schools, meanwhile, focus on on coaching psychology, offering leadership coaching for teachers. Dr. Suzy Green, of the University of Sydney, makes the important point that while positive education and coaching psychology are two methods which are currently not used simultaneously, both can be used to improve outcomes for teachers, students and schools as a whole.

The Benefits of Positive Education

The academic benefits of adopting a positive education programme are plentiful. Geelong Grammar School identifies the following:

  • Flourishing: Students who feel good, do good. In contrast, students struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression encounter significant challenges in their schoolwork.
  • Positive relationships: Students are able to create nourishing relationships with their peers, which also has positive effects on their grades.
  • Positive emotions: Positive emotions have been linked to success in life.
  • Positive health: Children are encouraged to adopt healthy, sustainable practices which optimises their physical and mental health. They are encourage to sleep well, consume a healthy diet and engage in exercise – all these factors help young students concentrate in class and improves their working memory, cognitive functions and visual-spatial processing.
  • Positive engagement: Children who are alert, curious and interested in the world and their studies achieve greater motivation.
  • Positive accomplishment: Children are encouraged to identify and reach for goals.
  • Positive purpose: Children are taught to take part in activities that benefit others.
  • Strengths: Children are encouraged to develop specific strengths, such as persistence and self-regulation.

Through positive education, students learn about the importance of gratitude, mindfulness and resilience –values and skills they are able to take with them throughout their adulthood, where competitive work environments require the same skills for staff to flourish. It is vital that individual programmes be created for more schools, in order to meet the specific needs of students and staff alike.

Useful further reading and citations:

Dlibrary.acu.edu.auCooperative Learning, Multiple Intelligences and Proficiency: Applicaiton in College English Language Teaching and Learning, accessed July, 2014.

Howardgardner.comMultiple Intelligences, accessed July, 2014.

Monash.edu.auYoung Children’s Role-Playing for Enhancing Personal Intelligences in Multiple Intelligences Theory, accessed July, 2014.

www.theage.com.auDepression rife in high schools, survey finds, accessed July, 2014.

Druginfo.adf.org.auStatistics, accessed July, 2014.

Recovery, Using Insurance to Help Cover Addiction Recovery Costs, accessed July, 2014.

Ggs.vic.edu.auWhat is Positive Education, accessed July, 2014.

Psychology.org.auPositive education: Creating fluorishing students, staff and schools, accessed July, 2014.

A Grant et al, Developmental Coaching for high school teachers: Executive coaching goes to school. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice & Research. 2010, 62(3): 151-168.

S.M. Clonan et al, Positive psychology goes to school: Are we there yet? Psychology in the Schools. 2004, 41(1): 101-110.

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Teaching job interview tips

The following presentation by Amy Cuddy demonstrates how you can easily transform your performance when you attend and teaching job interview.

We have long advocated for people to find a quiet corner, close their eyes and take some deep breaths. This adds a whole new dimension!

In 5 minutes you will have a strategy to get you noticed, boost your confidence, reduce your stress levels and dramatically improve your change of securing a great teaching job!

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How to succeed at your next teaching interview!

This presentation was delivered as part of the IEU Best Foot Forward Conference for final year student teachers, July 2013.

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Interview practice

Play, pause and rewind this video to rehearse as often as necessary your responses to these types of questions. We will be publishing further, similar videos to assist you with preparing effectively for securing your ideal school job.

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Writing a great graduate teacher CV

The following presentation was delivered as part of the IEU Best Foot Forward conference for final year Student Teachers on July 4, 2013.

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CV and interview skills for teachers

The following slides were shown as part of the IEU CV and Interview Skills Workshop, July 1, Melbourne.

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PhD Scholarships for mid-career teachers

The Australian Scholarships Group (ASG) in collaboration with the Faculty of Education, Monash University, is offering a full-time scholarship and a one year bursary for doctoral candidates in 2013. Research topics should have a focus on teaching and learning in schools.

The ASG PhD Scholarship for Exceptional Mid-Career Professionals
$40,000 per year (maximum of 4 years) for a full-time, on-campus doctoral candidate enrolled in the Faculty of Education. This scholarship is tax free.

The ASG Scholarship for Excellence
A bursary of $10,000 to contribute toward living costs and computer for a full-time doctoral candidate enrolled in the Faculty of Education.

This is a fantastic opportunity to undertake research in an area that you are passionate about. You will complete your PhD under the supervision of leading Education researchers and will be well supported throughout your candidature.

The successful candidates should commence the full-time PhD on campus by the end of July 2013. A later start date may be negotiated.

About the Australian Scholarships Group

The Australian Scholarships Group (ASG) offers parents a proven and proactive way to help nurture and fund their children’s education. They are an independent not-for-profit friendly society helping families to plan for the future costs of their children’s education. Since its inception, ASG has helped contribute to the development of children, families, and teachers through a range of support initiatives, including education scholarship programs, research funding, publishing activities, parenting support and resources, social-emotional curriculum programs, and multimedia education products.

Eligibility criteria

Scholarships are competitive and based on academic merit.

To be eligible you must hold a Masters degree which includes a major research project (a thesis of a minimum of 10,000 words with an examiner’s report); or a bachelors degree with first-class (H1) or second-class (H2A) honours, or qualifications considered equivalent, obtained from Monash or another recognised tertiary institution. Applicants who have published papers in recognised journals may also be considered.

The faculty also needs the ability to supply appropriate supervision for the candidate in the chosen field. It is desirable for the successful candidate to be based at the Peninsula campus. These awards are only open to Australian and New Zealand citizens or Australian permanent residents.

Applications

To apply, complete an online expression of interest by 30 April 2013. www.education.monash.edu/asg/

Applicants will be assessed for both awards concurrently.

Further Information

For more information please visit www.education.monash.edu/asg/ or email edu-courseinfo@monash.edu

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Teacher performance: Quite literally a matter of life or death

The Victorian Government this week finally took performance-related pay off the negotiating table in the long-running pay dispute with the State’s teachers. Hopefully this will pave the way for some meaningful progress to be made in recognising teachers’ professionalism and existing productivity.

However, NAPLAN is still very much in the headlines, and news of other education systems where teacher performance is heavily scrutinised has filtered through from the US, where it has emerged that a Los Angeles teacher committed suicide following the publication of teacher performance rankings in that city’s main newspaper.

More surprising perhaps, is that despite this dreadful occurrence you are still able to view individual teachers’ performance rankings on the newspaper’s website. Take a look for yourself and see whether you’d like to be judged by those who have no context of your teaching conditions, students, available resources etc.

The argument in favour of publishing any league tables is that it puts pressure on under-performing schools (in the case of Australia’s MySchool) or individuals to lift their game. In addition, the rankings are not standardised, but rather represent a value-added score ‘based on his or her students’ progress on the California Standards Tests for English and Math. The difference between a student’s expected growth and actual performance is the “value” a teacher added or subtracted during the year. A school’s value-added rating is based on the performance of all students tested there’. The argument extends that value-added data removes socio-economic factors from students’ performance and puts all learners, and therefore their teachers, on a level playing field. It is a fact that some independent schools in Australia are trying to work out the very same data in order to reward or develop their best/worst performing staff.

Certainly in Australia at the moment, it would take a robust person to argue that academic outcomes are totally independent of socio-economic factors: Many would agree that educational outcomes are unfortunately a self-fulfilling social prophecy, where students from more affluent families who value education do better than those from a poorer background, living in poorer suburbs with less well-funded and managed schools. A generalisation, sure, but not without some basis, as the Gonski recommendations recognise and seek to redress.

As most teachers will attest, there are countless more ways to measure the effectiveness of a teacher than test scores. NAPLAN has been so controversial because of schools’ ability to manipulate results. Increased scrutiny and public awareness of individual teachers’ class test scores will surely result in similar controversy and with the added possibility of highly effective and popular teachers feeling neglected, persecuted and possibly suicidal.

For this reason, we do not support performance-related pay in the teaching profession, much less the publication of highly sensitive and potentially damaging information in the public domain.

This content has been sourced from articles on the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post and TES websites.

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What time would you like to start school?

Templestowe College, in Melbourne’s Eastern suburbs, will offer three distinct start times from 2014 in response to research around adolescent sleep patterns.

Students will have the option of starting school at 7.15, 9 or 10.15am, with corresponding finish times of 1.15, 3.30 and 5.15pm.

Aside from the additional nightmare this creates for the time-tabler (!) and the potential additional burden on teachers to work longer days, the benefits of such a common-sense approach would appear significant. The system would enable working families, especially single-parent families, considerably more flexibility to align school drop-offs with work hours required by their jobs, or minimise the amount of time students spend at home unsupervised. It opens up the opportunity for early morning sport practice in the cool summer mornings without the need to get up before dawn, depriving teenagers of crucial rest and recovery time. Most of all, however, it recognises that not every student functions well at either end of the day, and that if we are serious about catering for individual learning styles, we should take into account not only the mode of delivery but also the time at which it occurs.

For more information on this initiative, as well as some of the other innovative practices that Principal Peter Hutton has introduced at the school, read the article from The Age (18/02/13) or visit the school website.

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