Performance and retention – the value of textbooks

Textbooks can play an important role in student retention, according to Oxford University Press author James Arvanitakis.

In an article in The Conversation, James wrote about a new program at Western Sydney University in which first year students receive free access to digital textbooks. The pilot program was introduced at the start of 2017, following similar strategies in the US and the UK.

James wrote that he believed textbooks were an important pedagogical tool that could help keep students engaged.

“Success at university is a combination of pedagogical and social factors, which include support networks and university transition strategies. Student performance and retention is enhanced by access to high-quality resources that they can afford.

“Textbooks are a powerful pedagogical tool that can improve engagement. In my own teaching experience, a well-written and relevant textbook allows students to better understand the broader subject narrative,” he wrote.

“That is, it is not about learning individual topics such as gender, class, race and technology. Rather, it allows the student to see the story of arc of the complex and intersectional factors that shape our societies.”

In his own experience, James has seen the benefits of high quality texts on student performance and retention, citing a drop-out rate of 22% falling to less than 2% as a result of the introduction of a textbook, with feedback indicating repeatedly pointing to the value of the new textbook.

James edited OUP title Sociologic – Analysing Everyday Life and Culture. He is a strong supporter of the ‘inclusive access’ model of textbook purchase.



How to make maths memorable

By Annie Facchinetti

Recent research in the area of neuroscience has revealed that the brain has a greater ability to change and adapt than was previously thought. However, brain changes are generally not instant. For lasting neurological pathways to be built, much like wearing a physical pathway between one place and another, they need to be travelled multiple times.

The idea that practice assists with the retention of knowledge is not a new one, but our understanding of the importance of practice in learning has been deepened by neuroscientific research. For example, a 2013 study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology specifically examined the role of practice in the acquisition of maths skills. According to Professor Hermundur Sigmundsson, one of the study’s authors, ‘We found support for a task specificity hypothesis. You become good at exactly what you practice’ (EurekAlert!, 2013).

The concept of practice is therefore an integral part of Oxford Maths. Each topic in the Student Books features a Guided Practice section that includes worked examples to support students in the early stages of learning about a concept or skill. The Independent Practice pages then allow students to use their skills and apply their knowledge, while the Extended Practice section provides the opportunity to apply learning in slightly more challenging contexts.

The Oxford Maths Student Book practice sections follow a gradual release of responsibility model, designed to scaffold students’ learning and build confidence to tackle more complex work. Many students, and indeed many adults, would assert that they are not good at maths, and the approach used in Oxford Maths is designed to ensure that every student can experience success at their level. An OECD presentation about the role of the brain in learning reached the following conclusion:

‘Concerning positive emotions, one of most powerful triggers that motivates people to learn is the illumination that comes with the grasp of new concepts – the brain responds very well to this. A primary goal of early education should be to ensure that children have this experience of “enlightenment” as early as possible and become aware of just how pleasurable learning can be.’ (Understanding the Brain: the Birth of a Learning Science, 2008)

To ensure that all students have the opportunity to feel successful in maths, the Oxford Maths Teacher Dashboards offer differentiated learning pathways to support students at their point of need. This includes teacher-led activities for students who require extra support, additional hands-on and collaborative learning experiences for students who are at standard, and a range of extension opportunities to challenge more able students. Suggestions for daily practice and ideas for whole-class activities offer a range of different opportunities to practise concepts and establish lasting neurological pathways. The pre- and post-assessment components also equip teachers to monitor student learning and make appropriate teaching adjustments.

In discussing the gradual release of responsibility model, Fisher and Frey (2008) assert that, ‘Structured teaching requires that teachers know their students and content well, that they regularly assess students’ understanding of the content, and that they purposefully plan interrelated lessons that transfer responsibility from the teacher to the student’. The structure of the Oxford Maths program also supports the ‘I do it; we do it; you do it together; you do it independently’ philosophy of the gradual release of responsibility model, by working through a structured series of activities that foster collaborative learning supported by ongoing snapshot assessment.

As teachers, it is easy to overlook the importance of practice as we rush to cover all the content required while meeting the high demands of busy school life. Oxford Maths provides a clear and comprehensive mathematics program that draws on current research to ensure that content is not just ‘covered’ but taught in a way that leads to sustained learning and the development of problem solving and reasoning skills.

Oxford Maths:

  • is a balanced approach including direct instruction, hands-on activities, small group and whole class tasks, skill practice and open-ended problem-solving.
  • incorporates key elements of inquiry, including making connections with mathematics in the real world, opportunities for higher-order thinking and multiple pathways for students
  • supports students to build foundational maths skills needed for complex critical thinking and problem-solving tasks.

Further reading

EurekAlert! 2013, No math gene: Learning mathematics takes practice. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 June 2016].

Fisher, D & Frey, N 2008, Better learning through structured teaching, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, Va.

Sigmundsson, H, Polman RCJ & Lorås, H 2013, ‘Exploring Individual Differences in Children’s Mathematical Skills: A Correlational and Dimensional Approach’, Psychological Reports: Volume 113, Issue 1, pp. 23-30. doi: 10.2466/04.10.PR0.113x12z2

2008, Understanding the Brain: the Birth of a Learning Science, 1st ed. [ebook] Paris: OECD. Available at: [Accessed 28 June 2016]

Don’t underestimate the value of practice in maths education

By Annie Facchinetti

It is often easy to assume that because students appear to have understood an idea or demonstrated a skill on a particular day, they have mastered the associated concept. However, research is increasingly confirming the importance of practice in embedding learning in long-term memory.

The adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is proving particularly relevant in the field of neuroscience, where studies show that exposure to repeated experiences of a topic are more likely to build lasting neurological pathways. Hohnen and Murphy (2016, p. 79), for example, found that repetition or practice results in what they call ‘myelination of that circuit’ (myelin is described as the insulating sheath around many nerve fibres, which increases the speed at which impulses are conducted), resulting in students developing greater efficiency with the target skill.

Practice, with a view to mastery, therefore underpins the spiral approach used in the Maths Plus program, both within and across year levels. In a 2007 report, Pashler et al concluded, ‘Research has shown that delayed re-exposure to course material often markedly increases the amount of information that students remember. The delayed re-exposure to the material can be promoted through homework assignments, in-class reviews, quizzes, or other instructional exercises’ (p. 5). Maths Plus offers students the opportunity to revisit mathematics topics at different points in the year, supported by the extra practice afforded by the Mentals and Homework Books.

The Maths Plus Teacher Dashboard also provides access to a range of resources that will enable students to experience mathematical concepts in a variety of different ways. These include digital interactives to introduce and explore topics, as well as support, extension and reflection activities. Problem-solving challenges included in the Student Books allow for skill application in a variety of contexts.

The final step in the Maths Plus process is assessment. Another of Pashler et al’s (ibid., p. 21) findings was that, ‘… the act of recalling information from memory helps to cement the information to memory and thereby reduces forgetting. By answering the questions on [a] quiz, the student is practicing the act of recalling specific information from memory’. The comprehensive post-assessment components available as part of the Maths Plus program help consolidate learning, and allow teachers to gauge student understanding, while the simple marking system provides evidence for A–E grading.

According to the UK’s National Centre of Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, ‘All pupils should become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics, including through varied and frequent practice, so that pupils develop conceptual understanding and are able to recall and apply their knowledge rapidly and accurately to problems (NCETM 2014). The Practise, Master, Assess approach used in Maths Plus covers all these aspects, using proven strategies to develop the knowledge and skills to become proficient in mathematics.

Maths Plus:

  • Provides spiralling content where concepts are explored, then built on throughout the year and across year levels. This helps learners make connections over time, supporting recall and fluency.
  • Offers varied learning experiences such as interactive concept exploration, learning, practice and consolidation activities, problem solving tasks, extra support and extension activities, and mentals and homework activities.
  • Assessment Books (bundled with Student Books) provide post-assessment tests that are simple to use and quick to administer, and allow teachers to track and review student learning.
  • Series is explicitly aligned to the new Victorian Curriculum, as well as the Australian Curriculum and New  South Wales syllabus.

Further reading

Bruner, J 1960, The Process of Education, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Hohnen, B & Murphy, T 2016, ‘The optimum context for learning; drawing on neuroscience to inform best practice in the classroom’, Educational & Child Psychology, 33(1), p. 79.

National Centre of Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics 2014, Mastery Approaches to Mathematics and the New National Curriculum, Sheffield, United Kingdom.

Pashler, H, Bain, P, Bottge, B, Graesser, A, Koedinger, K, McDaniel, M & Metcalfe, J 2007, Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning (NCER 2007–2004). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from [Accessed 19 July 2016]


Why flipped learning makes sense in the STEM classroom

By Andrew Douch

The current generation of STEM teachers is the first that must choose between teaching important skills and teaching urgent skills. In the past, there was no difference — the important skills were the urgent skills. Now there is a fork in the road, presenting a threshold challenge for STEM teachers that flipped classrooms can help us overcome.

“Importance” is about how much something matters. “Urgency” is about how soon it matters. In previous generations, it was understood that the more knowledge students had when leaving school, the better their career prospects. The urgency of exam preparation incentivised students to learn the important skills that would later underpin their career success. But that is no longer true.

There is a growing, collective understanding among STEM teachers that the skills that prepared yesterday’s students to thrive in a knowledge economy are inadequate preparation for today’s students. As information continues to be commoditised and processes automated, retaining knowledge is less important than it once was. It is still helpful for a student to know the first 20 elements of the periodic table, but failing to know them is a much smaller handicap than it was 20 years ago. After all, you can ask Siri what the atomic mass of copper is, should you ever need that information.

I’m not saying, as some do, that knowledge has no value, or that looking something up (no matter how efficiently) is as good as remembering it. If students are ignorant on a topic, they have no filter through which to sift new information. In a “post-truth” world, critical thinking is more valuable than ever and critical thinking is problematic for someone who lacks the context that knowledge affords. Nevertheless, YouTube is a pretty effective knowledge prosthesis.

Creativity, problem-solving, resourcefulness, computational thinking; these are skills that have always been valuable but are now at a premium. Teachers get this. Every time I mention it in a presentation I notice teachers nodding. But there seems to be a disconnect between that understanding and the way many teachers plan their classes. Many of us still spend a large portion of our class time teaching knowledge. Why? Because in November, students will sit an exam to answer questions that in any other context would be Googleable! If we have failed to prepare them for that we will have let them down. We won’t have done any favours for our own reputation, either.

Personally, I don’t think exams effectively measure student learning in any meaningful way in 2017. But as a science teacher, I have no influence over the state’s assessment processes (“God grant me the serenity…”). For as long as exams are the gate through which students must enter to pursue a STEM career, we need to hold that gate open for them.

Therein lies the dilemma we face. Do we spend our valuable class time on the most important or the most urgent things? Do we equip our students with the skills that will matter to them most, or those that will matter to them first? Do we prepare them to thrive in the economy of the future, or to thrive in the exams of November?

I don’t think we can neglect either. But clearly there is insufficient time to do both.

Since we are unlikely to be given more time, we need to make more efficient use of the time we have.

This is where the flipped classroom comes in. A common criticism of the flipped classroom model is that it is still a fundamentally didactic, teacher-centred approach. I don’t disagree with that —if done well, I do think that it is much more student-centred than it might seem.

Nevertheless, it is not my aim in this article to discuss different approaches to the flipped classroom model, how to do it well, nor to explain how it can be student-centred (we will look at those things in my presentation at the Oxford University Press STEM Conference). The point I want to make, rather, is that the flipped classroom is much more efficient than traditional approaches.

By taking didactic learning out of the classroom, class time is reclaimed for more “important” learning tasks, those that prepare students for the economy of their future. At the same time, it allows students to cover the “urgent” content they need for exams much more efficiently. They can, for example, listen to a lesson at double speed, while multi-tasking by washing the dishes (or some other mindless chore), thereby saving precious at-desk study hours for other tasks. It also makes that kind of learning demonstrably more effective.

In many ways, I think the term “flipped learning” does a disservice to the concept of flipped learning by implying that it is the wrong-way-around. On the contrary, I think it should be the new normal — at least until we do away with high-stakes standardised testing.

Nobody races to the bank during lunchtime anymore to withdraw cash during bank hours. Instead, we enjoy lunch with our colleagues in the staff room and multi-task cash-withdrawal with our grocery shopping that evening when the bank is closed. We don’t call it “flipped banking”, but that is what we are doing! We are using technology to time-shift a necessary, “urgent” errand to make more efficient use of our time, while also reclaiming our lunchtime to rest and cultivate rapport with colleagues — both of which, are important but not urgent.

In the same way, the flipped classroom can lead us to a more efficient, effective future for students, equipping them with the urgent and important skills they need.


Andrew Douch is an education technology consultant at

Want to learn how to flip your classroom? Attend the Oxford STEM Conference to discover different approaches to the flipped classroom model, learn the importance of equipping students with STEM-related skills and gain the confidence to incorporate technology into your teaching.


Connecting with Law Short Film Competition 2017

The Connecting with Law Short Film Competition is an annual event run by Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand. Now in its tenth year, the Connecting with Law Short Film Competition is open to all tertiary students currently enrolled in a law unit at an Australian university.

This year, we are asking students to create film about Groundbreakers. To enter, you should create a two to five minute film about people, cases or judgements that have been ‘groundbreaking’ and have changed the shape of Australian law. Your film should educate, entertain and engage fellow law students and help them connect with law.

Your entry should be creative (no snails in a bottle!) and it can be in any style, including a  music video, animation, documentary, interview, talking head or performance.

Get your name known in law and win great prizes!

1st Prize – $1,500

2nd Prize – $500

3rd Prize – $250

Want to learn more?

Visit the Connecting with Law Short Film Competition homepage to read our terms & conditions and submission guidelines, download an entry form or see last year’s winner!

Previous winning and commended entries can be viewed online at the Connecting with Law Film Library.

Entries close August 25th 2017.

Oxford Word of the Month: June – Kangatarian

WotM header

noun: a person who eats kangaroo meat but avoids eating other meat. Also as adj.


In early 2010 a number of news organisations, both in Australia and internationally, reported on a new diet trend happening in Australia:

There’s a new semi-vegetarian wave emerging in Australia: people who exclude all meat except kangaroo on environmental, ecological and humanitarian grounds. They call themselves kangatarians and are slowly growing in numbers. (Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February)

A number of these reports referred to a group of university students who were actively promoting this new diet:

Then, about 12 months ago, one group in Sydney decided to begin spreading the word about the benefits of kangaroo meat. ‘They coined the phrase kangatarians, it was a bit of a joke initially’, said Peter Ampt, a lecturer at the University of Sydney and a kangaroo meat advocate. (Calgary Herald, 13 February)

The evidence suggests the term is linked to these stories from early 2010.

Kangatarian is modelled on the word vegetarian. The -arian suffix means ‘having a concern or belief in a specified thing’. Vegetarian is also the model for other recent neologisms such as pescatarian ‘a person who eats fish but avoids eating meat’, and the jocular meatatarian ‘a person who eats meat as a significant part of their diet’. The kanga- element in kangatarian of course comes from kangaroo, a name for any of the larger marsupials of the Macropodidae family, with kangaroo entering English via the Guugu Yimithirr language of north-eastern Queensland.

Some of the appeal of eating kangaroo meat in preference to other meat is because it is thought to be healthier (it is a naturally lean meat), but kangatarians chiefly find the diet appealing on environmental grounds, because it does not rely on large-scale husbandry practices as other meat production does. Attempts to encourage a reluctant Australian public to eat more kangaroo meat, however, would probably entail the adoption of some of these practices.

Achieving the objectives of the review, then, would require the kangaroo industry to shift to farming techniques, but this would be in breach of kangatarian values. And a CSIRO report has dismissed kangaroo husbandry as a tedious and costly endeavour, on account of the animals’ nomadic habits, their low reproduction and slow growth rate, and behaviour patterns that generally prevent herding. (Crikey, 2 May 2012)

The reference to ‘kangatarian values’ illustrates that the term does not simply denote a dietary behaviour but, like vegetarianism, is often based on a set of ethical choices. Indeed, the word kangatarianism is also making its way into the Australian lexicon:

City newspapers and foodie magazines are swooning over the new wave of semi-vegetarianism that is emerging in Australia—Kangatarianism—excluding all meat except kangaroo on environmental, ecological and humanitarian grounds. (Alice Springs Centralian Advocate, 12 February 2010)

Kangatarian (and kangatarianism) will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

Phonics is not a dirty word

By Kate Gurjian, Director, Time to Shine Australia

Phonics is a word that is often misused, misunderstood and abused. Despite what some might argue, it is a method of learning that has much to offer Australian children.

I am often asked why it is so important to teach children phonics, as opposed to learning words through prediction or as a whole word.

Sound is critical in the process of learning to read. Children need to hear, distinguish, isolate, rhyme and articulate sounds and words. Once they are aware of these sounds, they can ready the neural pathways in their brain for learning the connection between letters and sounds. This is the single most critical factor in learning to read.


When a child can hear a sound, repeat that sound, recognise a sound in a word, and repeat a sound in a rhyme, they are on their way to learning to read. Although over-simplifying the very complex teaching of the alphabetic code, it is a starting point that offers more than what is currently being taught in our early years education.

The approach we are currently taking is a flawed one, and we have to ask ourselves the questions, ‘Why do we feel a three or four-year-old needs to be given flashcards of whole words?’ and ‘Why are we ‘hothousing’ children to read before they can sound?’ If we are really honest with ourselves, and have read the research, we would know the answer to the above questions.

In their first formal year of school, children should be immersed in phonemic awareness (understanding sounds), phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. These five critical components are intertwined. But, they each must be taught explicitly and directly in a systematic order for children to have any chance of success in reading, spelling and writing.

So, why do I pull out one single word, ‘phonics’? I do this because it is the one piece of the puzzle of childhood literacy that is so often under debate, and so poorly understood.

Perhaps the reason for this difference of opinion is due to the fact that some children appear to progress with little support, when in reality more than 20% of children will become at risk in their learning due to ignorance by the ‘system’. Learning to read is not an area that we learn by osmosis. Children need to be taught which sounds correspond with which letters. English is a phonetic language; there are 26 letters, but over 44 sounds! Understanding this complexity will enable all children to be given thorough phonics instruction.

I assess more than 200 children every year in my private practice, and every year I see the same result: children from their first year of school, through to the end of primary, who have not been given an ordered approach to the learning of letter-sound correspondence – that being explicit phonics. Some children are therefore years behind in their reading, spelling and writing. They are ‘instructional casualties’. This is our fault.

English will not be learnt by chance. We must teach the alphabetic code well and directly. We need to recognise that phonics is not a dirty word, but a critical one.

About Kate – An individual approach that is helping students to shine


In the world of literacy, Kate Gurjian describes herself as a disruptor. It was her unwillingness to sit by and watch children fail, and to challenge the status quo, that motivated her to establish Time to Shine, carving out a niche in the education of children.

Instead of tolerating poor teaching based on lack of empirical evidence and research, and management directives she disagreed with, Kate drew on her extensive experience as an educator to build a new education business.

“I will not stand idly by and wait for a child to fail, nor will I tolerate teaching practices that fly in face of proven science. So I decided not to move the behemoth that is the ‘system’ – instead I chose to do it myself,” she said.

Previously, Kate had worked as a primary teacher, early childhood educator, special needs practitioner, author, head of department and principal. This broad experience provided her with an understanding of what children need in effective literacy and numeracy learning for future success.

Time to Shine offers students, from the age of four to 14, direct and explicit instruction in reading, writing, spelling and mathematics, supporting children for whom learning is difficult. The approach emphasises individual attention, research-proven methods, and only utilises the programs that are based on scientific evidence.

“Knowing precisely where a child is in terms of weakness, matched with their strengths and interests, ensures we accurately develop an individual program tailored specifically to the child. The work I do is grounded in the children and their individuality. Henceforth, Time to Shine’s philosophy stands by what I value most: every child, no matter their background or ability, being given every opportunity to shine.”

Equality is also important to Kate, and she aims to ensure all children have access to high quality education.

“I ultimately advocate for the rights of the child and the education that must be made available to them,” she said.

Why book design matters

The design team at Oxford University Press might argue with the assertion that you can’t judge a book by its cover. A book’s cover can help tell a story, providing clues as to what lies within, drawing the reader’s eye and shaping their experience.

However, there is more to book design than producing an attractive and effective cover. The layout and design within can also make a significant impact on the reader, enhancing the content and reflecting its quality and identity.

In the lead up to the announcement of the 2017 Australian Book Designer Association (ABDA) awards on Friday, the team has provided their thoughts on why design, both internally and externally, is so important.

  • “Book covers convey ideas, give an independent identity and represent a book’s worth before the reader has had the opportunity to read the content page.”
  • “The design supports the content, subtly emphasising things like meaning, tone and feel, and providing visual cues for the reader.”

9780195597240                   9780195550269

  • “Subconsciously, design confirms the narrative and underlying themes of content by applying a context. Content is positioned and framed in such was that it signifies and suggests ideas.”
  • “Excellent design enables content to be read, ordered, navigated and extracted with ease. Through colour, hierarchy, composition and considered font choices, readers are guided in such a way they can focus on retaining knowledge without the frustration of becoming lost during the journey.”

Feature Writing           WHI_CAC5_18306_CVR_PPS_SI.indd

  • “The internal design of the book needs to be structured in a logical manner with clear, inconspicuous typography. This is especially important for educational books, with their hierarchy of information. The book not only needs to convey its contents to the students, but it needs to keep them engaged as well.”
  • “Book design matters more than you might think – the design supports the content, subtly emphasises things like meaning, tone and feel, can provide visual cues for the reader and something beautiful, textural and tangible to keep and covet.”

Three OUP books have been shortlisted for the ABDA awards: the Australian National Dictionary, Children, Families and Communities and Media and Society.

Find out more about the design of the Australian National Dicitonary, published in 2016, 28 years after the first edition on our blog.



The pitfalls of following the herd

Behavioural Economics: A Very Short Introduction author Michelle Baddeley talks to ABC Radio National Life Matters program about ‘Why we herd and how it can harm us’.

In the interview, Baddeley discusses the tendency of people to blindly follow the herd, and the pitfalls of this behaviour, which might be at play in overheated housing markets and the extraordinary popularity of certain cafes.

Behavioural Economics: A Very Short Introduction is available from Booktopia.

Behavioural economics










We need to manage the ‘underbelly’ of globalisation

The benefits of globalisation do not come without the need for increased responsibility and cooperation from the international community, according to The Pursuit of Development and Globalization for Development author Ian Goldin.

In conversation with Business Insider’s Paul Colgan,  Professor Goldin said governments needed to ensure that they managed the risks involved with globalisation effectively to mitigate risks, including inequality between those positioned to reap the many rewards of globalisation, and those who were not.

In pursuit of development

“Globalisation accelerates the opportunities as well as the risks,” he said, citing changes to the employment landscape resulting from globalisation.

“Unless we can manage that, I think we’ll see the pushback that we’re seeing, this rising tide against globalisation. That would be a tragedy, because it would not only slow down the prospects of growth and development, but also of dealing with the big problems, like climate change, like pandemics, like cyber attacks. All of these things require more cooperation and more understanding of what other countries are doing and how we’re going to work together, not a withdrawal from this international system,” he said.

Professor Goldin said that changes in employment, resulting from the rise in robotic technology and machine learning, could create a significant divide in opportunity and wealth among those who lived in vibrant urban centres and those in rural areas, such as has occurred in the wheat belt in America or the areas to the north of London in the UK.

Ian Goldin was the founding Director of the Oxford Martin School from September 2006 until September 2016. He is currently Oxford University Professor of Globalisation and Development.

The Pursuit of Development and Globalization for Development are available from Oxford University Press.