Celebrating Father’s Day with the ‘dad joke’

It appears that dad jokes are having a moment. Some of the coolest fathers on the planet are airing their own dad jokes, and some decidedly less cool dads are following suit.

The dad joke is described by OxfordDictionaries.com as, ‘An unoriginal or unfunny joke of a type supposedly told by middle-aged or older men.’

In the lead up to Father’s Day on Sunday, September 3, we’re showing our appreciation of these fatherly funnies by taking inspiration from the trendsetters and some less well-known jokers.

Barack Obama and Ryan Reynolds are just two of the high-profile dads publicly displaying their proclivity for the dad joke.

At his final Thanksgiving celebration as President of the United States, Barack Obama famously took the opportunity to display his prowess with the dad joke. After saying that his daughters were not present because they couldn’t take his turkey-related puns anymore, he swiftly moved on to unleash a few of his best:

 “When somebody at your table tells you that you’ve been hogging all the side dishes, you can’t have anymore, I hope you respond with a creed that sums of the spirit of the hungry people: Yes we cran.”


“I want to take a moment to recognize the brave turkeys who weren’t so lucky, who didn’t get to ride the gravy train to freedom, who met their fate with courage and sacrifice and proved that they weren’t chicken.”

Ryan Reynolds also got in on the act, posting this one to Twitter:

“Went to Disneyland because my daughter’s obsessed with Mickey Mouse. She was so excited when I got home and told her.”

Once confined to the privacy of the home, dad jokes are now doing the rounds on Twitter, with less famous dads joining Obama and Reynolds to share their best.

Twitter’s @baddadjokes has a whopping 33,000 followers. Some of @baddadjokes’ best include:

“What’s the difference between in-laws and outlaws? Outlaws are wanted.”

“What’s the leading cause of dry skin? Towels”

“RIP boiled water. You will be mist.”

If you want to give your dad some inspiration for his next dad joke this Father’s Day, consider the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotes.

This hilarious collection of humorous quotations, full of wisecracks and wit, snappy comments and inspired fantasy, has been specially compiled by the late British broadcaster and raconteur Ned Sherrin, with a foreword by satirist, Alistair Beaton.

Fathers will be able to find the best lines from their favourite jokesters and wordsmiths, hopefully improving their own repertoire.

Entries range from Russell Brand’s cutting remark,

“No wonder Bob Geldof is such an expert on famine. He’s been feeding off ‘I don’t like Mondays’ for 30 years.”

to Arnold Schwarzeneger’s quip that deciding to run for governor of California was:

“The most difficult decision I’ve ever made in my entire life, except for the one in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax.”

Long live the dad joke!

Humorous Quotations

Other Father’s Day gift ideas from Oxford University Press:

Holy ST       Companion to food      Beer

Sherlock       Wine

Lost without atlas skills

By Annie Facchinetti

The digital native, tech savvy students in our classrooms today have no need for traditional skills such as knowing how to use an atlas or to read a map, right? They’ll just use Google to get fast information about places or to find their way around. While it’s tempting to think that the generation moving through our schools has it all sorted when it comes to technology, recent research suggests that the concept of the digital native is actually a myth.

Rather than being instant experts because they were born into a world saturated with technology, Kirschner and De Bruyckere (2017) assert that today’s learners need guidance about how to effectively use the tools available just as much as students in the past. They not only found that there is, “scientific evidence showing that there is no such thing as a digital native who is information-skilled simply because (s)he has never known a world that was not digital”,  they go so far as to suggest that digital natives are “yeti-like” or in other words, “fictional creatures” (pp.135-6). Among other sources, their findings are drawn from a report commissioned by the British Library and JISC that concluded that, “the ubiquitous presence of technology in [students’] lives has not resulted in improved information retrieval, information seeking or evaluation skills” (Rowlands et al., 2008, p.308).

So while students may be able to use technology to obtain verbal directions that match a map on their device, they actually do need to be taught to interpret and understand what they are seeing. This fact is recognised in the Geography strand of the Humanities and Social Sciences learning area of the Australian Curriculum as well as in the Mathematics curriculum, which both include critical skills such as map reading, map creation and giving and interpreting directions. The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Geography paper (ACARA, 2011) that informed the development of the humanities curriculum acknowledges that students should be informed consumers of data and information and they therefore need to be explicitly instruction in how to interpret elements of maps such as scale, coordinates and compass directions. Indeed, even an online source as popular as Google Maps has a scale in map view and a compass in street view and therefore to make the most of the technology, students need to understand these concepts.

There is also a strong argument for teaching students how to use an atlas and other location and direction related skills using paper-based resources. According to  author Deborah Farmer Kris (2016), for example, “map reading remains an important tool for building children’s spatial reasoning skills and helping them make sense of our world”. This view is supported by the Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Geography paper (ACARA, 2011), which links the development of spatial skills with mapping. A US report into geographical skills lamented that in part because of a reliance on technology, “an overwhelming majority of high school graduates are not prepared to do the ordinary geographic reasoning that is required of everyone in our society in the course of caring for themselves and for their families,” (Edelson, Shavelson & Wertheim, 2013), a pronouncement that lends weight to the value of developing basic location and direction competencies as critical life skills.

From tracking the migration of animals to finding your way home after a night out, mapping skills are an integral part of 21st century living that can be clearly and easily linked with the everyday experiences of students. So next time you are tempted to dismiss their importance, remember that students are relying on you to help them navigate through the potentially confusing, but very essential world of mapping and directions.

Further reading

Australian Curriculumulum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2011). Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Geography. Sydney: ACARA.

Edelson, D. C., Shavelson, R. J., & Wertheim, J. A. (Eds.). (2013). A road map for 21st century geography education: Assessment (A report from the Assessment Committee of the Road Map for 21st Century Geography Education Project). Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.

Kirschner, P. & De Bruyckere, P. (2017). The myths of the digital native and the multitasker. Teaching And Teacher Education67, 135-142.

Kris, D. (2016). Why Children Still Need to Read (and Draw) Maps. PBS Parents. Retrieved 7 August 2017.

Rowlands, I., Nicholas, D., Williams, P., Huntington, P., Fieldhouse, M. & Gunter, B. et al. (2008). The Google generation: the information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Aslib Proceedings60(4), 290-310.



More than Mercutio – English teaching for the future

By Michael Horne

Discussion of what teachers and educational leaders really want students to get out of their schooling has recently shifted to the types of skills that they will need in the 21st century. In the face of a paradigm that still emphasises knowledge retention and memorisation, and when viewed in combination with the development of cognitive dispositions to use those skills, this is a useful shift.

Even though skills such as collaboration, creative and critical thinking, and the ability to synthesise have always been the best outcomes of education and the most useful tools to carry into the world, it is clear that the explicit demand for them is up. The Foundation for Young Australians in their 2016 report ‘The New Work Mindset’[1] analysed over 2.7 million Australian job advertisements over two years and identified seven job ‘clusters’ into which specific positions and their required skills were grouped. The report argues that there are certain “enterprise skills”[2] that are consistently asked for, and transferable between clusters. These enterprise skills are consistent with what educators variously call higher-order thinking skills, “capabilities”[3], or “kinds of minds”[4]. They include:

  • synthesising
  • creating
  • collaborating
  • problem solving
  • meta-cognition.

So what does this shift in demand mean for schools, and in particular for English teaching? Two basic principles are needed to underpin an increased focus on the development of these skills:

  • a revised view of content and knowledge that sees them as the carriers and media of skill development, as well as being important in themselves; and
  • valuing the ability to meta-cognitively recognise and talk about these skills as they are being developed.

The first of these suggestions can be particularly challenging for us as English teachers. We can argue that access to great and well-known literature is part of a student’s cultural inheritance, and important for them to become socially and culturally conversant. We can argue that we want our students to experience To Kill a Mockingbird in the same transformative way that we did. Yet, slinking behind these arguments is the tacit truth that it probably doesn’t really matter if students don’t remember who Mercutio was, or what the essential themes of The Catcher in the Rye are. The texts that we cling on to, any texts really, are important as works of art and mirrors of our best and worst selves, but they are more important educationally as the media through which students develop skills.

The second of these principles suggests to English teachers the importance of developing and sharing a discourse of learning which sits above the lexicon of English. Students can only learn to identify their own thinking when they have a consistent language for it, and when examples of certain cognitive moves are pointed out to them. There is an argument here for articulating what we mean by ‘critical thinking’ in the context of textual analysis, for example, and for pausing to hover over examples when they arise in class. The depth of criticism that we look for in the best student work can be more frequently achieved if we specify both the cognitive and syntactical structures that characterise such work, rather than giving vague instructions to students like “more depth needed” or “lacks sophistication”.

These are not radical ideas, but carving out room for them within schools means thoughtfully identifying and removing redundancies – anything that doesn’t directly lead to the development of the skills and dispositions that students will need and benefit from in their post-school lives.

If we value a student’s ability to synthesise information from traditionally separate disciplines[5] within English, we might sometimes break down traditional divisions between textual and language analysis. If we want students to be able to critically evaluate a range of references and sources of information, what purpose do closed-book exams serve? Let’s let them bring in the sources and actually analyse them in an exam or test. If we want students to reflect on their own thinking and see where they need to go next, how do letter grades help to do this? (Although, of course, English teachers have always been good at specific and personalised feedback for improvement.)

Challenging and reviewing long-practised norms in English programs and assessment, and identifying those which might now be redundant, is difficult in a system where everyone has personal historical experience. But it is also necessary. If we really want to develop those skills that we profess we want students to have (and which the data shows us society wants) – critical thinking, open reflection, and collaboration – then we need to apply them to our schools and to our own practice.

[1] Foundation for Young Australians, ‘The New Work Mindset’. Melbourne: 2016. p. 10

[2] Ibid. p. 19

[3] Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Victorian Curriculum Critical and Creative Thinking. Accessed on 02/05/2017.

[4] Howard Gardner, ‘Five Minds for the Future’, summary in Plurilingüismo e Innovación Educativa 201 (4). pp. 6-7

[5] Patrick Griffin and Esther Care, ‘Test Construction’ in Patrick Griffin (ed.), Assessment for Learning. Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. 2014. Pp. 165-6.

Michael Horne was a co-author of Oxford MyEnglish, shortlisted in the Student Resource – Junior –  English/Humanities/Languages/Arts/Technologies/Health and Physical Education category of the Educational Publishers Award Australia.


Oxford Word of the Month: August – honey joy

WotM header

noun: a honey-flavoured biscuit containing cornflakes


In 1938 a simple recipe for a crisp honey-flavoured biscuit appeared in a Victorian newspaper:

Honey Joys … Five cups cornflakes, 3 dessert-spoons butter, 2 table-spoons castor sugar, 1 table-spoon honey. Melt butter, sugar, and honey; mix in the cornflakes, put into paper patty cases, and bake in a moderate oven for three minutes. Take out, and leave to set. (Melbourne Argus, 13 July)

There are earlier references in the 1930s to store-bought lollies called honey joys, but the recipe above is the first evidence we have of the cornflake-based biscuit we know today, and uses the same ingredients and method. The variant form honey crackle, first recorded in 1941, is less common, but is still in current usage: ‘My first memory of cooking is with my grandma making honey crackles…’.(Perth Eastern Reporter, 10 November 2015)

Breakfast cereals are a cheap and convenient ingredient for sweet biscuits, and there are some well-known examples in Australian cuisine. Rolled oats feature in the traditional Anzac biscuit, while more highly processed cereal is the main ingredient for the honey joy and another Australian classic, the chocolate crackle, based on rice bubbles. Chocolate crackles and honey joys emerged in the same period, and both became favourite party snacks for children. But honey joys are easier to make. According to this writer, they are foolproof:

When my chocolate crackles would not set and my toffees fell into misshapen blobs in the patty cases, I always knew my honey joys would pull through. (Canberra Times, 19 March 1991)

And pull through they have, for nearly 80 years. The simplicity of the recipe, the convenience of using ready-made cereal, and the cornflake crunch have no doubt contributed to their continuing popularity. They have a long association with children’s parties, school fetes, fundraising events, and country shows:

Last weekend, the family and I spent all day at the Yankalilla Show … The stalls were groaning with honey-joys, chocolate slices, rock buns and sultana loaves. (Adelaide Sunday Mail, 7 October 2007)

Our fondness for them means they have achieved the same nostalgic status as other typically Australian fare:

Our daughter Karen, living in London … had an Australia Day Supper on the 26th January with other Tasmanians. It consisted of—vegemite sandwiches, honey crackles … sausage rolls … and lamingtons (found it a hassle making those), together with Australian wine and milo. (Deloraine Western Tiers, 19 March 1992)

Honey joy and honey crackle are being considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.



Celebrating the best Connecting with Law short films of the past decade

Join us as we celebrate 10 years of the Connecting with Law Short Film Competition with the top 10 entries from the very beginning through to 2016. *Spoiler – we had a draw in 2013!

2016 Theme: Why Study Law?

Winner: ‘Day One’ by Kit Mun Lee, Liam Hartley, Edward Wong & Quang Ngyuen, University of Melbourne

 2015 – Theme: Bring your favourite case to life!

Winner: ‘Chester v Waverley Council 1939 62 CLR 1’ by Ray Waterhouse, Nikita Vidyaev, Bella Noon, Ben O’Sullivan & Molly-Anne Clark, University of Notre Dame, Sydney

2014 – Theme: Legal ethics – thinking, acting, being

Winner: ‘Ethics in Social Media Advice for the legal hound dog’ by Katy Milne, Monash University

2013 Theme: Your top tips for studying law

Joint Winners: ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Law’ by Jason Allen, Deakin University


Joint Winners:  The 5 Senses to Studying Law’ by Ryleigh Bowman & Sam Lumb, University of Wollongong

2012  Theme:  Pick a definition from the Oxford Australian Dictionary

Winner: ‘Bearly Legal’ by Julian Chant, University of Melbourne, & Louis Aldred-Traynor, University of Notre Dame, Sydney

2011  Theme: Creatively interpret a definition from the Australian Law Dictionary

Winner: ‘The Court of Handball’ by Joel Arnott, Daron Resnik and Daniel Segal, University of Technology, Sydney

2010 Theme: The study of law

Winner: ‘Lo Spettatore Intrusivo’ by Dave Joyce, James Remington, Dan Coombes, Giovanni Marino and Michael Magee, University of Melbourne

2009 – Theme: Connecting with Law

Winner: ‘Law Review’ by Jack Fitzgerald, Toly Shapiro, Paul Whelan, Emily Hargreaves and Yang Wang, Deakin University

2008 – Theme: Connecting with Law

Winner: ‘Law Talk’ by William Howarth, Tom McKeith, Lach Nicolson and Ned Winn-Dix, University of Sydney


Comprehension is an essential part of the literacy equation

By Annie Facchinetti

Imagine that you were lost in Turkey and the only directions you had were written in Turkish. You could probably read them out loud with reasonable accuracy, even though your phonological awareness of the language may not be perfect, but unless you can speak Turkish, your understanding would be limited. Reading the directions is therefore unlikely to be a valuable activity for you. So, while phonics and decoding are critical skills, without comprehension, the whole point of reading is lost.

Seminal research by Gough and Tunmer (1986) proposed the Simple View of Reading, which places equal value on decoding and comprehension using a mathematical equation: Reading = Decoding x Comprehension or R = D x C. In this equation, if there is no comprehension, and therefore the C has a value of 0, the R will also equal 0. In other words, if comprehension is not happening, reading is not happening.

A more recent comprehensive study by the US National Reading Panel (NRP & NICHD, 2000) identified five areas as being critical to reading instruction: phonemic awareness; phonics; fluency; vocabulary; and text instruction.  Often referred to as the “big five”, the NRP concluded that each component is necessary for successful reading from the earliest stages of school. This represents a shift from traditional thinking, whereby phonics was the main focus for early years students and comprehension was introduced later.

The view that comprehension should be an integral part of reading instruction has garnered much support in the research literature. Cunningham and Shagoury (2005, p.4), for example, contend that emphasising decoding too heavily in lower grades can lead to a lack of understanding when reading by the time students reach the middle years. They advocate explicit instruction in a range of comprehension strategies, including visualising, inference and synthesising skills.  Reed (2016) takes this one step further, asserting that:

Teaching comprehension while students are still mastering foundational reading skills will not only allow for students to demonstrate age-appropriate skills, but it also will help reinforce the reasons we read in the first place: to derive meaning, understanding, and enjoyment from a book or other text.

This suggests that not only are students capable of text comprehension as soon as they begin reading (Gregory & Cahill, 2010), ensuring that they have the skills to access meaning as they read is vital to help students become successful and willing readers.

While instruction in some of the foundational skills of reading, such as phonological awareness, will gradually become less necessary as students’ reading proficiency increases (Reed, 2016), comprehension remains important right through the primary years and beyond. A lack of comprehension skills will affect not only a student’s academic results, but also a whole host of areas in their adult lives, including opportunities for future study and employment prospects (Marshall, n.d.). Consequently, it is necessary to provide continued support for students to develop and refine strategies to understand and critically analyse what they read throughout their school lives.

There is general agreement that while decoding is necessary for successful reading, by itself it is not sufficient (Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Van Kleeck, 2008). Incorporating targeted and explicit comprehension instruction into daily literacy programs is therefore essential to support students as readers and learners.

Annie Facchinetti is a leading educator and author of OZBOX: Learning through Literacy and Oxford Literacy teaching notes.

Learn about building comprehension skills in your classroom 

Further reading

Cunningham, A., & Shagoury, R. (2005). Starting with comprehension. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse Publishers.

Gough, P., & Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial And Special Education7(1), 6-10.

Gregory, A., & Cahill, M. (2010). Kindergartners Can Do It, Too! Comprehension Strategies for Early Readers. The Reading Teacher63(6), 515-520.

Marshall, P. The Importance of Reading ComprehensionK12 Reader. Retrieved 15 July 2017.

National Reading Panel (U.S.), & National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S.). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Reed, D. (2016). Comprehension Skills Are Important for Readers of All AgesIowa Reading Research Centre.

Van Kleeck, A. (2008). Providing preschool foundations for later reading comprehension: The importance of and ideas for targeting inferencing in storybook-sharing interventions. Psychology In The Schools45(7), 627-643.


Catering for mixed abilities in the English classroom

The term ‘mixed ability class’ is one that teachers often react to with an inward groan, but it’s a reality in most Australian classrooms. When I consider my Year 8 English class, there is a gap of around three years between the highest and lowest performing students, and I’m sure that this isn’t too unusual a situation. Teachers are generally expected to differentiate (another word that provokes an inward groan) but often struggle to know how to do so effectively — and no wonder, when this means that they need to teach to several different standards while also generally working towards common assessment. So how to best cater to the very broad range of abilities that teachers are likely to encounter in the English classroom?

My Year 8 class has recently started studying a new novel. There are varying levels of engagement with this text. Some students love it and have already read it multiple times. Others are struggling to get through it on their own, although they seem to be capable of summarising and analysing key plot events with support. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, students are working through a series of comprehension actives at their own pace. As they work, I give the class some general reminders about the need for detail in their responses, and then move around the room to check on their progress. Some students need to be reminded to write their responses in full sentences. Other students are asked to re-read the relevant passages and check the accuracy of their answers. I redirect my more capable students to be less concerned with forging ahead, and to take more care with adding sophistication to their written expression. In one corner of the room, we have an impromptu tutorial on nominalisation for those students who would really benefit from being a little more thoughtful with their word choices. Others are asked to focus on analysing why a character behaves in a particular way, rather than just describing what takes place. In this way, students are able to work on a common task, but develop their reading and writing skills individually. The range of abilities in the room is broad, but everyone has the opportunity to improve these abilities no matter where they lie.

This kind of differentiation is nothing new. Many English teachers will do this naturally, without giving it too much thought. But at the end of the lesson an additional challenge is thrown my way. Two of my most capable students excitedly show me that they have completed all of the work I’ve set. They love the novel and have both read it twice. Their answers are detailed and well-written. I’m thrilled that they are so engaged and motivated, but also a little surprised — I know that the majority of the class will need at least another period to finish this work, and I don’t want to worry the weaker students who really need to focus on reading carefully and writing well-constructed sentences, rather than hurrying through the task. I start to think about how I can extend my fast finishers without disadvantaging the rest of the cohort, and my thoughts turn to the VCE Study Design for English. While it may seem a bit unusual to be guided by VCE curriculum when teaching Year 8, I realise that the ‘Reading and Creating’ Outcome in Units 1 and 3 can help me create a challenge for my capable students that will allow them to consolidate their text knowledge without leaving the rest of the class behind.

I enter the classroom the next day armed with some freshly-designed activities. Students are told to continue with the work from the previous day, and then move on to new activities when ready. One activity is designed to consolidate their knowledge of the plot of the entire novel, while the second is a creative response task that gives them the option of writing from a variety of different characters’ perspectives. I set some expectations in terms of what must be completed by the end of the lesson, and what is optional, and they get to work. Once again, I move around the room and give students personalised feedback on their work while also checking on progress and explaining the new tasks. There’s a definite energy in the room — my more capable students are pushing themselves to get ahead to the ‘fun’ creative tasks, and some students who have generally struggled with comprehension tasks seem to pick up the pace as they notice those around them moving on to different work. At the end of the lesson, the two students who inspired me to create the additional tasks present me with completed creative responses and tell me how much they enjoyed the task. Counter to my expectations, some of my less able students have also attempted the creative tasks and proudly ask me to read their work.

When I think about teaching mixed abilities after this lesson, I’m less inclined to groan about it. My students have definitely benefitted from having access to a range of tasks, and I’ve discovered the value of presenting a challenge above and beyond what might be expected, not only for my students, but also myself.

Rachel Williams is co-author of the ‘My English’ series, which offers a differentiated solution to teaching language skills from Years 7-9.

Oxford MyEnglish 7 to 9 Victorian Curriculum has been shortlisted in the Student Resource – Junior – English/Humanities/Languages/Arts/Technologies/Health and Physical Education category of the Educational Publishing Awards Australia. The winners will be announced in September.


Help us find the Australian Children’s Word of the Year!


Do your students talk Trump or Turnbull, fidget spinners or footy cards? Oxford University Press want to learn more about the way children communicate, and to help us do this we are launching the Children’s Word of the Year free writing competition.

Primary school-aged children are invited to nominate their ‘Word of the Year’ and submit a 500 piece of free writing based on that word. The piece can be creative or factual, funny or serious – it’s up to the student.

To help teachers inspire their students, we have developed a lesson plan that we hope will help generate ideas and discussion. It includes tips on how to write a story that is engaging and original, advice about building characters, and ways to use language to enliven their writing.

The Children’s Word of the Year will be the word that best reflects the lives and interests of Australian children today, whether in the playground or the wider community.

Prize packs of Oxford learning resources will be presented to class and individual winners, and the best entries will be published on the Oxford University Press website.

The competition is part of Oxford’s dedication to improving communications through an understanding of, and a passion for, language around the globe.

Find out more about the competition and download the lesson plan, entry form and writing templates.

We’re looking forward to exploring the language of Australian primary school students and discovering the Children’s Word of the Year!


Forget about Maths experts, Australian schools need well-supported teachers

By Brian Murray

Hardly a year seems to pass by without some survey or other exposing a slip in numeracy standards in Australian schools.

In late 2016, Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, said he was “embarrassed for Australia” because of the way Year 4 students had fallen behind other countries in Maths.

Bodies such as the Australian College of Educators suggested that the solution was the introduction of Maths specialists in primary schools. Simon Birmingham agreed, even suggesting that one way to attract these specialists would be to recruit them from overseas.

But are experts in Maths necessarily best suited to improving standards in Maths?  The answer is a resounding ‘NO!’

We only have to look back through the years to our own experiences as students to see that the subjects in which we performed best were the ones in which we were taught by:

  • teachers who liked us;
  • teachers who we liked;
  • teachers who saw their job not as imparting knowledge, but as helping us to understand the subject matter;
  • teachers who were fun;
  • teachers who did not try run a regime of fear;
  • teachers who saw a lack of understanding on our part as likely to be a failure on their part to have explained the subject matter successfully.

Such a teacher was not necessarily one who was an expert in her or his subject area, but whose skill was in knowing how to help the students to learn. That was what made them good teachers.

This is why the most effective primary school teacher is a ‘jack-of-all trades’, not a master of one. A teacher who hangs a virtual sign in the classroom saying, “My job is to help my students to learn” is far more likely to succeed than one who has a dozen diplomas in a particular subject area.

One of the best Maths teachers I know confesses willingly to being ‘hopeless at Maths’. What would Mr Birmingham do? Toss her out of the back door and not let her near a Maths lesson, I suppose.

But he would be completely wrong. This teacher could, given the right tools, help her students to learn anything – from learning a foreign language to the principals of welding. Why? Because, no matter what the subject area, she would not let the fact that she is not an expert put her off. She would succeed because she has the attributes of a good teacher listed above. She would see the learning experience as a shared journey, furnish herself with the necessary equipment and get on with the job.

If we wish to improve standards in numeracy, the starting point is to make sure that we encourage teachers to become confident in their ability to teach Maths instead of condemning them because ‘standards are slipping’.

To begin with, we should do away with the notion that being good at teaching Maths is dependent on being an expert. If I wanted to improve my poor cooking skills I would far prefer the guidance of an everyday cook who wanted to help me to make progress over a Michelin Hat chef who expected me to become an expert simply because he gave me a set of instructions.

Does this mean that every teacher has the capacity to be a good Maths teacher? Well, no, because there are some teachers who we all know would be better suited to a different profession. However, what is certain is that a teacher who has the attributes of a good teacher listed above, who is good at teaching reading, art, spelling or whatever, has the capacity to be good at teaching Maths. There is no hidden secret to being a good Maths teacher.

One of the reasons for falling standards in numeracy is the somewhat ‘snobbish’ attitude put forward by some Maths experts that teachers should shy away from commercially produced student workbooks for Maths in the primary classroom. These ‘experts’ seem to believe that they are unsuitable for helping students to learn.

Using an effective Maths resource such as Oxford Maths is, of course, just one (not the) tool that a teacher needs, but, providing that it is used in the right way, it is a priceless tool indeed. That said, it cannot be denied that in many schools teachers are made to feel inadequate if they do not spend countless hours producing their own ‘tailor-made’ maths material. What a waste of precious time! Having a good student Maths workbook available is as valuable a tool for a teacher as is a good saw for a carpenter.


“Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job,” said Winston Churchill. Unfortunately the popular feeling in some quarters seems to be “Make you’re your own tools and try to finish the job, but if you fail, watch out!”

To summarise, there are only two things that are needed to prevent Mr Birmingham from becoming embarrassed again:

  • Encourage good teachers rather than berate them.
  • Equip teachers with the tools that will help their students succeed in Maths.

Brian Murray was an author of Oxford Maths Student and Assessment Books, shortlisted for the Educational Publishing Awards Australia Student Resource – Mathematics (Numeracy) category. Winners will be announced in September.




Grab the students’ hearts and then sneak the information into their brains – An engaging approach to learning about ageing.

As editors of Healthy Ageing and Aged Care, Maree Bernoth and Denise Winkler aimed to provide students with an engaging resource to encourage students to read and learn about ageing.

The authors appreciate the most valuable sources of information about ageing come from those who have lived life and experienced what it means to age. So, the foundation of the text is stories, which relate the experiences of older people and are then captured in text, on videos and in a podcast. These stories and experiences demonstrate the variety of lives lived and focus on the strengths and contributions older people have made and continue to make to their families, communities and their countries.

Taking such an approach debunks stereotypes and ageist attitudes that can negatively impact on the quality of interactions between older people and health professionals. Dr Bernoth said it was important to understand the individuality of older people and that they are still living lives and contributing. In this case, they are contributing to student learning by sharing their experiences in the text and media resources.

“One of the really valuable things is having older people themselves contribute. You can engage with real older people telling their real stories. They’re sharing honestly and generously their experiences with you,” Dr Bernoth said.

Dr Bernoth went on to say “one of my particular passions is in having nurses engage with older people and see them as the complex beings they are and understand that working in ageing is complex, requires sophisticated clinical skills, and there is so much to learn.”

She said that after more than 30 years working in aged care, she remained excited by new research and learning about new ways of working with older people. This excitement and passion is reflected in the book.

“The other really valuable thing about learning about ageing is that you’re learning about yourself. You’re learning about the consequences of choices that you’re making, and you’re learning about how they impact on your ageing, so this is a really exciting field to be involved with.”

It is Dr Winkler’s expertise in storytelling and in the refreshing approach she has to presenting information that adds a new dimension to the text and captures hearts and minds. This is a novel and courageous way to write a text but it adds to the life in the book and engagement of the readers.

Some case studies detail the complexity of living with multiple chronic conditions, diverse family relationships and coping with grief. Contemporary issues such as ageing prisoners, homelessness, senior entrepreneurs, information technology and elder abuse are included in complete chapters.

There is not one way of ageing and it is crucial that future health care professionals are armed with attitudes, understanding and knowledge of the diverse experiences of those with whom they will work.

Healthy Ageing and Aged Care has been shortlisted in the Tertiary (Wholly Australian) Student Resource category of the Educational Publishing Awards Australia. The winners will be announced in September.

Listen to Dr Bernoth and Dr Winkler introduce Healthy Ageing and Aged Care.