Literature and the everyday

By Rosemary Ross Johnston (Please note: Some parts of this appeared in an earlier blog for the Australian Association for Educational Research 

Contemporary research is increasingly showing the benefits of reading.

Such benefits – exposure to unremitting flows of ideas and multiple stories – extend way beyond the conventional; they include benefits to health, wellbeing and creativity. A recent article in The Guardian featured research showing that the one thing creative people have in common is that they are readers.

The benefits spill across disciplines. Bob Dylan, in his long-awaited Nobel Prize in Literature Lecture, noted the significance to his songwriting of the books he read whilst at school. He mentions Don Quixote, A Tale of Two Cities, Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe, and describes at some length the influences on his music of Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Ulysses, from which he quotes:

Sing to me, O Muse,

And through me tell the story.

Dylan notes the importance of the great themes of literature; he says they have given him both ‘standards to measure things by’, as well as ‘principles and sensibilities and an informed view of the world’.

Never have we needed an informed view of the world more than we do now, beset as we are by avalanches of social and other media, and with claims of ‘post-truth’. We are living in a connected environment (I’m writing this from Dubrovnik, in Croatia; yesterday I was in Montenegro, and in a day or so I start the journey home via London to Sydney), but we are certainly not living out – or living up to – the ideals of a global community.

And we are kidding ourselves if we think that living in faster proximity to each other brings us closer together in thinking. Surely recent terrible and gut-wrenching events have demonstrated this. (And what a tragic overlay they have given to Wordsworth’s words: ‘Dull would he be of soul who could pass by …’)[i].

Croatia and Montenegro, their forebear Yugoslavia and their relations, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, are part of what were commonly called the ‘Balkan States’, places that seemed – and were – a world away from the girl who long ago studied the ubiquitous ‘Causes of the First World War’. That very name – the Balkans – seemed somehow so dark and forbidding to me then, harsh and stormy; it’s hard to understand as I look out now at the exquisite beauty of the Adriatic.

Reading beyond the textbooks and beyond one’s culture helps to create an informed view. Arguably Dylan’s reading is all part of a Western tradition (although they do come from different countries and periods). However he says that their powerful themes and ideas ‘worked their way into most of my songs’; that is, they are interpreted into a different genre – music, in a propinquity that includes Buddy Holly, Country and Western, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock ’n’ Roll. He has created a medium of expression that in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has a cross-cultural and inter-generic currency. His music and lyrics have been inspired, in his words, by a deep engagement with reading.

The point is that in this oddly changing, differently configured world, we need to read. Our children need to read – to explore sameness and difference, ambiguity, and, if you like, the idea of that Oxford word of the year, ‘post-truth’. Uninformed impressions are not only often wrong, but dangerous.

As Dylan points out, the intensive study of rich texts has made available to him a way of thinking that has enabled and indeed inspired him to translate literary experience into the rhythms of everyday life – being caught in traffic for example, and having (like Ulysses), trouble getting home. There is no high-brow/low-brow distinction in the metaphors and allegories that this reading has afforded him.

Reading can lift us into sharing global ideals – and we are curiously bereft of ideals at present. They seem too hard to achieve: really caring for each other, authentically wanting the best for each other. Corny perhaps but I want to believe that this is what we all want – that this is indeed a truth, and not post-truth.

And this is one of the greatest gifts that reading gives us. It gets us into the mind of another person, who may be separated from us by time, geography and culture. One of my first school-day ventures into such travel through space and time was reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; another was picking up at a fete an old copy of Coonardoo, by Katharine Susannah Prichard.

Deep literacy

This was the beginning for me of what I call deep literacy – literacy that takes us way beyond skills but builds on and through them to influence how we respond to others – especially different others. I describe this in Australian Literature for Young People as using subjunctive modes of thinking, and recognising and respecting ‘the truth of the other’.

What exactly does that mean?

It is more than putting oneself in the place of the other (important as that is). It means not simply ‘How would I feel if it were me?’ but ‘How does he feel because he is he?’ or ‘How does she feel because she is she?’

Deep literacy is a continuous process; it evolves and thickens the more we read and are exposed to the minds (and as Martha Nussbaum says the ‘souls’) of others, and the more we engage with the world. It shifts boundaries and extrapolates moral and ethical understandings of self and others, of the implications of ‘here’ and ‘there’, ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. It is democratic. It promotes wise responses to difference and hesitates to attach simplistic labels.

Deep literacy is an elongation of mind, and mindfulness, and mind-fullness. It profoundly influences personal and communal behaviours.

So, back to Dylan and his lyrics, which were recognised by the Nobel Committee as literature – poetry.  As I have written in several other places (including a blog for the Australian Association for Research in Education[ii]), poetry[iii] exploits and liberates all the resources of words – their sound and look and rhythms and rhymes and assonances, their capacity for ambiguity and tagging others. It uses words like Russian dolls: open up one word and another one tumbles out, scattering other images along the way.

Poetry plays with the ways words are used against each other, the way juxtapositions can ignite complexity. Consider Paolo Totaro’s cry against war when a child picks up something that looks like a pomegranate: ‘Where did it come from, that winsome hand-grenade?’

This odd placement of words (‘winsome’ doesn’t usually associate with a deadly device, but transports us not only into the child’s eyes but into those of a despairing adult), was described by Shklovsky as a sort of ‘roughening’ and ‘impeding’ of language. It startles, and makes us stop to think.

Poetry is like a theorem; a few words can express a deep thought. Consider the following:

露の世は露の世ながらさりながら

This world of dew

is but a world of dew,

and yet … oh, and yet.

Koyabayashi Issa (1763–1828)

The words are so simple, we know what each one means. But what is this famous haiku actually saying? It feels repetitive, unfinished. It’s like saying an apple is an apple, and the ‘and yet’ repeated at the end means – what? Is this a contradiction – a post-truth?

These words stand on the surface of a complex thought, above not just one idea but many (philosophical, creative, intellectual, universal, particular). We know what ‘dew’ is: the dictionary says it is ‘moisture condensed from the atmosphere especially at night’. But this simple definition unravels into other ideas pertaining to moisture: water, morning, dawn. These in turn tumble into thoughts about dawn as being a new day, as being either a fresh start or a despairing start (or both), and moisture and water as both that which assuages thirst and as the moisture of tears and sweat, sorrow and exhaustion, or sometimes of great happiness and pleasure.

So, almost subliminally, this invites the reader to take a thought-plunge into both the profound delights and the profound sadness of the world and indeed of human existence. And whichever way we read this, as delight or sadness, or both, or neither, there is always the ‘and yet’, the something else, the other side, the perhaps holy or perhaps unholy concomitance.

Our technological future will flourish in a creative and culturally rich climate. The same topics that fascinate and entice poets are those that fascinate and entice scientists. I love the work of Brian Greene, Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson. As Dylan does, they all use ‘story’ to talk out/sing out their complex messages.

Greene is an astrophysicist at Columbia who is studying time and the nature of reality. Time, he says, ‘is in the eye of the beholder.’ His work is the stuff of storytellers – he talks about black holes as possible ‘gateways to other universes’ – and he believes in the deep connections between science and the arts and philosophy and spirit. Indeed he is currently working with a rap artist, and rap of course is a mix of poetry and music. Greene writes that science is shifting from what he calls ‘the outskirts of culture’ into the heart of culture.

We are living in a world that values creativity and minds that can slide across disciplines – not only interdisciplinary but transdisciplinary. The Nobel citation for Dylan’s prize read: ‘… for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.’

I am currently working on a paper about possible future directions for the Humanities, and am thinking, simply, that the essence of the Humanities is just that – our human-ness, our intimate humanity, our intimacy with humanity. In the midst of difference, this is our profound similarity.

Looking out again at the Adriatic – watching local children dive into the clean clear waters, shining out, in Hopkins’ beautiful image, like ‘shook foil’ in pellucid splashes of emerald and olive within the blue. They are pure of limb, vigorous, and full of the joy of being together and playing together.

They could be my sons swimming in the waters of Sydney’s northern beaches. They could be my grandsons.

Rosemary Ross Johnston is the author of – Australian Literature for Young People

Australian Literature of Young People

 

[i] William Wordsworth’s famous sonnet:

 Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 William Wordsworth

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:

This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:

Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!

[ii] See http://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?tag=rosemary-johnston

[iii] Paolo Totaro, ‘A Quality of Daring’.

Maths skills need to serve students beyond the next 30 minutes

By Peter Sullivan, Professor of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, Monash University. 

A lack of consensus about what works can make debates about education frustrating. This is especially true for the teaching and learning of mathematics. Not only is there a high level of disagreement about the teaching of the subject, but even the most fundamental approaches are debated.

One of the main areas of disagreement centres on whether students should be told explicitly what to do, or whether a problem-solving centred approach is more effective.

The first method, which some commentators support, involves teachers telling students what to do and having them practice multiple examples, which are then corrected. Such commentators see curriculum progress as climbing a series of micro-steps that are best taken in a particular order. This argument suggests that students work best by progressing through a textbook page-by-page and example-by-example.

As part of the same argument, it is recommended that students are taught in groups of similar levels of achievement, with students in lower groups being offered a limited mathematical diet. This approach is based, presumably, on an assumption that not all students can learn mathematics, and is most common in junior secondary classes.

However, a sample of Year 7 and 8 content that is on both the Year 7 and Year 9 NAPLAN assessments, reveals that students in those years hardly improve at all. (Schools can easily check this claim by comparing, for example, questions 5, 21 and 26 on the 2016 Year 7 Calculator paper that were also on the Year 9 paper). These items are explicitly on the content taught in years 7 and 8, yet, state-wide, the improvement is very limited. Even though these are not the same students, the comparisons give a clear indication that this approach is NOT working.

I, along with others, argue that a better way students can learn mathematics is through solving problems for themselves, by connecting related ideas together and working on tasks and experiences that are challenging, for which the solution path and type are not obvious, and which take time to reach. Through effective differentiation strategies, mathematics can be taught in mixed achievement groups, with students’ own solutions and solution strategies being a central part of the teaching. The assumption is that all students can learn mathematics given time and opportunity.

Those who support the former argument (that students need to be directed explicitly) claim that students give up quickly if not told what to do, that they will not persist long enough to find solutions, and that they do not like ambiguity and risk-taking, but want to get correct answers.

However, these are inappropriate orientations for the world of employment and life that we can imagine current students will experience. The responsibility of schools and mathematics teachers is to overcome such limiting self-beliefs.

Of course, there are some aspects of mathematics which students cannot be expected to come up with themselves, such as the formula for the relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle or the theorem of Pythagoras.

But there are other aspects of mathematics which students can explore for themselves using the knowledge they already have. To give an example, imagine we are introducing middle primary students to the concept of measurement errors and how to avoid them. We might pose the following task for students.

Michael and Monica measured the basketball court. Michael said it was 20 rulers long. Monica said it was 19 ½ rulers long. How could this happen?

The teacher might ask the students to first work individually and then to collaborate with others to formulate a list of possible explanations for the discrepancy. There are many possible explanations that students can find for themselves. For example, when I have done this, students have suggested “one of them left gaps”, and others have suggested “one of them measured crookedly”. There are, of course, many other possibilities but note how these two suggestions could be turned into student generated rules for measuring such as “do not leave gaps” and “measure in the shortest straight line”.

The task, which the students can work on prior to any instruction, is accessible for all students and can be used as a prompt to stimulate collaborative discussion focusing on possible sources of measurement error.

The task can also be extended by posing a problem like:

Someone suggested that one of them left gaps. Who left the gaps: Michael or Monica?

The answer, by the way, is not obvious. Write your answer down before looking at the end of the article.

Note that this task also addresses another important measurement principle that students can see for themselves, that the larger the unit the fewer the number of units.

It comes down to this. Telling students how to answer mathematics questions might work well for the next 30 minutes but it does not enhance the chance of students remembering what they have been told, nor of transferring this particular learning to a different context. The challenge is to find ways to engage students in their own learning.

Hopefully the additional funding that many schools look likely to receive in new funding models might be allocated in ways that support such learning and teaching for the future.

(Monica left the gaps).

 

Move over, tennis mums, a new breed of tennis mom has arrived in the updated Oxford English Dictionary

You might remember the term tennis mum being used to describe women who returned to tennis after becoming mothers.

Now, tennis mom and tennis dad refer to parents who actively and enthusiastically support their child’s participation in the sport.

They are among the tennis-related, lifestyle, current affairs and educational terms included in the latest update of the Oxford English Dictionary.

More than 50 new words and 30 new senses related to tennis were added to the dictionary, after consultation with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

They included bagel, tennis slang coined by player Eddie Dibbs in the 1970’s, referring to a score in a set of six games to love due to the similarity of the numeral 0 to the shape of a bagel. Superbrat is also a word which is used in contexts other than tennis, but was famously applied to the tennis player John McEnroe by the British press in response to outbursts on court.

Forced error is used to describe a mistake in play which is attributed to the sill of one’s opponent rather than the player’s own misjudgment, while chip and charge refers to an attacking style of play, in which the player approaches the net behind a sliced shot.

What else is new to the OED?

A new usage of thing was introduced in the dictionary update, used in questions conveying surprise or incredulity, such as ‘how can that be a thing?’ This has been traced back to an early episode of television series The West Wing.

The new sense of woke, meaning ‘alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice’ has also been included. Its use by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, and in particular the phrase ‘stay woke’ is thought to have introduced the word to a broader audience, especially on social media.

Old sayings have also been tweaked, with footless (as in, footless drunk, an alternative to the more familiar ‘legless’) and son of a bachelor (a euphemistic alternative to ‘son of a bitch’).

Oxford Dictionaries announced post-truth as its 2016 Word of the Year, and since then, the huge increase in its usage has given the lexicographers enough evidence to add it to the OED.

In the educational sphere, the OED update included MOOC, an acronym for massive open online course, which you might have spotted on your social media feed and wondered about its meaning.

A range of words for wedding veils were added to the dictionary, including a birdcage veil, blusher veil, cathedral veil and fingertip veil.

Another lifestyle addition was the Danish trend and culture reference hygge, defined as ‘a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being’.

Finally, ZYZZYVA, referring to a genus of tropical weevils native to South America and typically found on or near palm trees became the new ‘last word’ in the OED.

You can find all the new new word entries, sub-entries and senses on the OED website.

For more on Australian dictionaries, visit the Australian National Dictionary.

 

 

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: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-12/nuos-nmg121313.php [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: http://www.oecd.org/site/educeri21st/40554190.pdf [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 http://ncer.ed.gov. [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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 

Andrew Douch is an education technology consultant at evolveeducation.com.au

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.

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.

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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

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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.”

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  • “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.”

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  • “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.