Category Archives: Master of Teaching

Skills for the 21st Century

If you’ve been wondering just what we should be teaching kids to prepare them for a future of jet-packs and hover-boards, the folk at the Buck Institute for Education have the answer. Back in 2008 they audited more than ten separate academic and policy educational frameworks to identify important ’21st Century Skills’. You can check out the result here (including downloading their notes on where in each of the contributing sources they are drawing from).

Cutting to he chase, the skill domains and sub-components they propose are…

ICT Literacy

  • Information Media Literacy
  • Technological Literacy

Cognitive Skills

  • Critical Thinking / Problem Solving Skills
  • Creative Thinking Skills

Inter-Personal Skills

  • Communication Skills
  • Collaboration Skills
  • Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Leadership Skills
  • Social Skills

Self- and Task-Management Skills

  • Self-Monitoring / Self-Direction Skills
  • Project Management Skills

Personal Characteristics

  • Ethics / Civil Resposibility
  • Accountability (for High Standards)

On learning to read Mandarin

I've been pondering the divide between learning reading through a 'phonics' approach and a 'whole language' approach. While acknowledging that much of the 'war' between these pedagogic approaches is a bit of a storm in a teacup (the best approach is no doubt hybrid), it is fascinating to ask how critical the 'sounding out' strategy is when we learn to read. After pondering the case of profoundly deaf children learning to read as one extreme case (for them sounding out is impossible – so how do you teach a deaf kid to read?) it occurred to me that a completely non-phonetic alphabet would also be impossible to learn phonetically. So… how do the Chinese manage?

A quick search turned up a forum thread about adults learning Cantonese. One of the responses to a query on how this was achieved given the nature of the language fascinated me;

"In my personal experience learning Cantonese, I've found it impossible to use the learn-by-reading approach. Instead, I've been collecting more and more recorded dialogues and have learned the majority of my vocabulary this way. …

I took the dialogues from a Teach Yourself course, stripped out all the English, put them on my MP3 player and just played them over and over and over again. Even if I was doing something else, I'd have them on in the background. As a result, those conversations are now permanently burned into my brain and I can recite most of them word for word without looking at the book. …

As for learning characters this becomes more practical once you have a basic grip on the spoken language. What I've been doing lately is trying to read the character versions of the dialogues which I'm already very familiar with. This way, I already know what the text is about, and can kind of fill in the blanks for those characters I don't already know. Once you see them in context enough times it becomes easier to recognize them (the caveat here is that I can only write maybe 20% of the 800 or so characters which I can recognize). 

In summary, you'll probably need to adapt your existing approach and embrace the fact that the spoken language will come before the written one. It's a long road ahead but definitely enjoyable and worthwhile!"

(my emphasis)

This experience sounds strikingly similar to the approach of 'whole language' learning that relies not on bottom-up phonics, but on top-down sight recognition.

Teaching Dharawal (Tharawal) Indigenous perspectives in primary?

Last week we submitted our final assessment for ‘Human Society and Its Environments’ – a group-compiled resource for teaching Indigenous studies in a primary school in southern Sydney, part of the land of the Gweagal (Gwiyagal) mob. While I am not usually a fan of group assignments, this one was surprisingly painless; Vanessa, Heather and Nathalie seemed to do most of the work, so I can’t really complain.

A key part of the assignment was understanding how important local material is in providing Indigenous perspectives – and not always something that easy to find. I wanted to put the finished resource up here because itlists a range of resources that will be useful to anyone developing Indigenous studies material in the southern areas of Sydney and beyond (Dharawal (Tharawal) is the language spoken in the area South of Botany Bay and the Georges river, west to Appin, down as far as Goulburn and to Wreck Bay near Nowra).

You can download the Dharawal Indigenous Teaching Resource here.

On a more person note, we were asked as part of the assignment to reflect on how we understood the importance of ‘localisation’ in teaching Indigenous perspectives. Thinking about this made me realise that despite the culturally progressive attitudes that prevailed in the primary school I attended, my appreciation of Indigenous Australian culture and heritage was very much a product of the period in which I grew up. True ‘Aboriginies’ were an ancient and mysterious race that existed in a far away land – separated strangely by either time or distance. Their presence in the alien red heart of the country somehow pushed that land into a distant past, dislocated from the world I lived in. Utterly separate to this spiritual, tribal culture were the marginalised ‘black folk’ that existed in the liminal spaces of my own world – all but invisible in country New South Wales (a place where the only Asians in town did, in fact, run the Chinese restaurant).

The Aboriginal culture I learned about was both ‘other’ and homogenous. While we appreciated that there were many different tribes, any differences between tribes was glossed over. The ‘Aboriginies’ of my early years became a stylised tapestry of loin-cloths, woomera, corroborees and boomerangs. It was only many years later when I was exposed to terms like ‘Koori’ and ‘Murri’ that I became aware of both the diversity within Indigenous culture, and the real link between past and present.

These two tensions – between identity and stereotype; between past and present – are a challenge for those teachers introducing students to Indigenous ideas today. Providing a local context to Indigenous perspectives is an important way of reconciling these tensions. Specific local context can act as a means to link past and present, and to make abstract generalisations concrete and meaningful. Combined with an interdisciplinary approach, localisation is a step towards a more meaningful integration of Indigenous perspectives into education.

The dichotomy between Indigenous past and present is seen in the ‘historical’ and ‘contemporary culture’ aspects that are grouped together under ‘Indigenous studies’. The past is seen through a lens of tribal anthropology, while the present through a lens of cultural relationships and social justice. In many ways this tension is one that is playing itself out within Indigenous communities across Australia, as many different models of integration, segregation and co-existence are attempted.

By focusing on the local Indigenous community (past and present), connections can be drawn that collapse this dichotomy. Perhaps the continuing presence of the local community’s totem animal in the area may provide a concrete link to the spiritual past. Local place names drawn from Indigenous origins speak to a living language that continues to connect with the land. Local places of significance take the abstract and ‘otherly’ idea of the sacred site and make it both meaningful and politically resonant.

By using localisation to draw the culture of Indigenous Australia from a distant tribal past into a living present, connections can then be made with the members of that culture today – a culture that in many parts of the country is enjoying tentative but powerful renewal. Introducing children to Indigenousness in a way that allows them to relate to it as another perspective on their world is an important part of our nation’s journey toward a positive shared future.

If I was creating a course about technology in the classroom…

One must pity the poor bastards developing courses for ‘mature age students’ – opinionated know-it-alls with ludicrously high expectations of their courses, expecting a decent ‘return on their (time and fee) investment’. So I preface this post by acknowledging that anyone who puts together a tertiary course deserves credit for the significant effort required to do so.

Last week we finished up the component of our program that looks explicitly at the use of information technology in education. There are several important things to note here;

  • with technology playing an ever-increasing role in the classroom, it is vital that teachers understand how it can be used to create effective learning environments
  • from our visits to schools early in the term it is clear that teaching staff generally have very low levels of comfort and experience in introducing information technology into the classroom – particularly the interactive white boards (IWB) and laptops that are part of the ‘digital education revolution’ which is upon us
  • pre-service teachers come to the profession with vastly different levels of familiarity with technology, and a suitable course must cater for this range of experience

Unfortunately, after our last lesson I was left with a feeling that an opportunity had been missed. The course had seemed somehow unsatisfying – I did not really feel more ready to enter a classroom and ‘get all digital’ with students.

To explore my unease, I went back to the unit outline and looked at the different things we spent time doing throughout the term. Roughly speaking (across lectures, tutorials and out-of-class work), this broke down into four categories;

  • Literature and policy – familiarising ourselves with government policy and guidelines about technology in the classroom (such as the DER and Connected Classroom initiatives) and exploring the literature on technology use in education
  • Classroom skills – hands-on skills for technology use in the class, including managing a classroom full of students on computers, and using the IWB
  • Resource evaluation – looking an digital tools and content that may be used in the classroom, and assessing them to determine their value and suitability
  • Resource creation – learning to use tools to develop digital resources (such as PowerPoint, animation studios, and Notebook for the IWB), and creating multimedia digital resources to deliver on specific learning outcomes

I then went through the unit outline and estimated the number of hours that were being allocated to each task. This was obviously somewhat subjective (also, I assumed that we were spending as many hours on the course outside of class as in class), but you can check my working here if you wish. The chart below shows the rough breakdown of the 44 hours of course time across these four activities;

In short, as you can probably guess from the chart, I felt that we spent far too much time creating resources and not enough time learning how to use technology in the classroom. I’m not sure where this focus has come from, and I do acknowledge that teachers having some skills in resource creation is a great thing, but I don’t believe that over half of the focus of a course on technology in education for pre-service teachers should be on multimedia resource creation.

So, what do I think we SHOULD be learning? Well, without giving it the thought it deserves, if I were creating a course of this type, I’d break it down something like this;

  • Current state of play – technologies that are in the classroom (PC labs, digital video), those that are coming soon to the classroom (IWBs, personal laptops, video conferencing), and the government policy relating to them
  • Digital literacy needs – what skills do we need to be equipping our students with (from typing to search literacy and critical media appreciation)
  • Modes of technology use in education – what are the different ways technology can be used, what are the pedagogies that underpin these approaches
  • Evidence for efficacy – what literature is there (particularly recent studies) that shows how and why technology can assist in fostering learning outcomes
  • Hands-on skills – particularly for those with less experience, what are the core skills needed (this may include some time working with an IWB, a basic grounding in PowerPoint if necessary, basic overview of video-conferencing, and a show-and-tell of the Lenovo laptops being deployed to many schools)
  • Issues and ethics – dealing with contentious topics like privacy, cyber-bullying (to use the term du jour), inappropriate material, disparate levels of technology in the home etc.
  • The future – exemplars of projects using technology in new and innovative ways (such as School of One, whether you like it or hate it), emerging technologies and their potential (from augmented reality to Siftables)

It would be unfair not to point out that there were a number of positive aspects of the current course as it was delivered. It gave us exposure to a range of typical educational resources (the kind we might choose to use in the classroom), we had the opportunity to see the scope of different resources developed by our peers (many people seemed to find this the most interesting part of the course), and it gave us experience independently developing out skills in new media-creation tools (a realistic scenario when you are out in some remote school without support, learning new software packages).

It was, however, essentially a course in ‘multimedia resource development for the classroom’. This is a valuable skill, but perhaps more suited to an elective – what we need as pre-service teachers is a good grounding in technology deployment in the class that will enable us to be agents for change as we move out into an education system undergoing dramatic technological change.

EDBT5501: Are you willing to share your digital resource?

In the tutorials this week we got to see the digital teaching resources our colleagues had created (well, those people that were in our class at least). From the conversation, it seemed that some people were keen to get copies of other people's projects to potentially use in the classroom. Unfortunately the approach to sharing seems to be 'ask the person whose thing you like to email it to you', which is a bit clunky, so I thought I might try this…

If you ware willing to share the digital resource that you created, email it to me (as a single file) with a title and a short description at 

If there is sufficient interest (let's say if I get more than ten emails) I will create a new blog at and upload ALL the resources I get sent. That way everyone can look through (including the resources from people in other classes) and download the ones they are interested in.

There’s a seventh circle of hell…

…reserved for those who create poor diagrams.

I am a big fan of a nicely put together diagram, something that brings to life the richness of data, or the complex interplay between ideas. Unfortunately, one consequence of this is a sensitivity to a diagram that not only fails to add to what it portrays, but introduces extraneous and confusing elements. ‘Global Perspectives: A framework for global education in Australian Schools’ is a resource for educators that aims to improve the quality of ‘globally aware’ teaching across a range of disciplines. On page 5, it includes the following diagram to provide a context to the sections in the remainder of the document.

Let’s take a moment to examine some of the semiotic messages within the diagrams;

  • big lovely circle-y-ness speaks the the global and holistic nature of the content, that’s fine
  • lots of colours (and the jigsaw motif) draw on the ‘multicultural’ themes and are reflected in the rest of the design of the document, no issue there
  • the distinct colours of the lower half are at odds with the ‘integrated’ rainbow of the upper half, which seems to suggest a philosophical distinction that isn’t really there
  • the five concepts in the top half are shown in a fashion that suggests one is somehow ‘core’ with the others sequentially wrapped around it – this is not the case, and there is no reason that one should be ‘inside’ of another, nor that they have any strict order
  • the ‘temporal/spatial dimension’ does indeed run right across the five top ideas, but it in no way ‘separates’ them from the four ideas at the bottom, as the diagram suggests
  • the jigsaw pieces show that the lower concepts are interrelated (which they are), but not in the sequence inferred by their positions – I would also suggest that the idea of interrelation is more critical to the ideas at the top than the bottom
  • the top/bottom dichotomy also suggests that the four ideas below are somehow ‘foundations’ which the top ideas emerge from – this is not particularly the case

Beyond the various semiotic elements that are misleading in the diagram, there is also the lost opportunity to build meaning into the diagram using these types of tools. Where is the flow of causality or process (something diagrams are good at showing), what is contingent on what? Are there any relationships between items in the top half or within items in the bottom half that are worth showing?

Diagrams are hard. Complex diagrams are really hard. But they can be incredibly powerful teaching tools if used well. Check out some Edward Tufte, or Nancy Duarte’s Slideology for some inspiration.

Another View of Remote Indigenous Education

Today I listened to a recent radio interview with author Kate Grenville, talking about her visit to remote indigenous community near Katherine called Manyallaluk. I was fortunate enough to visit that part of the NT earlier this year, and Manyallaluk is indeed looked as wonderful as she describes it. Unfortunately I didn't get to see the school in action.

Within an idyllic community Grenville paints an challenging picture of primary education, acknowledging the disconnect between the standard curriculum the school teaches to, and children who begin primary schooling with little or no spoken English. She talks about the oral nature of indigenous language, and the significant mental shift to working with written language. Perhaps most fascinating to me (having looked at the nature of identity as a linguistic construction), she talks about the fact that the stories written by these students were completely devoid of the word 'I'.

As a result of her visit, Grenville wrote an article that has been published in the latest edition of Meanjin, which I will have to pick up a copy of. I actually stumbled across the interview listening to ABC Radio National's EduPod podcast, a great collation of stories on education that is well worth subscribing to if you are interested.

Multimedia Design Projects in Primary School

Engaging students with group design projects using multimedia tools is an increasingly popular approach that seems to serve a number of functions;

  • teaching familiarity with and competence in technologies that are deemed relevant
  • encourages deep, engaged research into topic area being studied
  • building cognitive thinking skills through real-world problems solving
  • collaboration and other social skills arising from teamwork

self-esteem and related personal outcomes from developing what is seen as a worthwhile product

There is little research on the topic, one piece (of limited academic value) we were provided in class was ‘Enhancing Learners’ Cognitive Skills Through Multimedia Design’. This paper did cite a study (titled ‘Multimedia Science Projects: Seven Case Studies’) way back in 1997 that looked at the outcome of multimedia projects (remember multimedia back in ’97? we are talking HyperCard here!) right through grades 3 to 11.

What interested me was that while they found support for “the popular claim that multimedia-project design increases student responsibility for their own learning”, when looking at their data by age ‘the sense of responsibility was absent at the elementary level’ (elementary being roughly the same as primary, possibly up to about Year 5). They infer that design-based multimedia projects will not be suitable for children before high school (unfortunately this was an aside, as age was not a factor they had been intending to examine).

There are many factors that may have led to this, from the approach taken by teachers to the software used. It does raise the question though, are students at that age capable of taking on the responsibility of self-directed learning and owning complex processes of production. I would like to think so, but it does raise questions about the types of environments and scaffolding that will be necessary to create classrooms where they can and will do so.

Pedagogical Challenges and the Digital Education Revolution

Our schools are undergoing a fundamental change as we see information technology being introduced and playing an increasingly significant role in primary and secondary education. This transition has been brought into sharp focus in Australia by a number of government initiatives, most notably the Digital Education Revolution. With the mandated the introduction of electronic whiteboards, wireless networking, video conferencing and laptops, schools are being forced to address the infrastructural and pedagogical challenges of technology in the classroom.

My first assignment for our introductory teaching subject (EDBT5500) examined the context of three specific pedagogical challenges touched on by the ‘Banksia Campus’ case study we examined in seminars. The first was selecting the most suitable hardware for ‘personal’ student use and accommodating the physical presence of computing devices in the classroom; the second was realising the potential of online peer-assisted learning; and the final challenge was the need for greater information literacy in ‘the Wikipedia world’, where students may lose the magic of discovery that many teachers value.

Educating a workforce of knowledge workers

Looking at the 'employment-related key competencies' identified by the Mayer Report in 1992, it's clear that we are planning for students to pop out the other end of schooling into a world of 'knowledge working'…

  • Collecting, analysing and organising information
  • Communicating ideas and information
  • Planning and organising activities
  • Working with others and in teams
  • Using mathematical ideas and techniques
  • Solving problems
  • Using technology

Nice to see the collaborative point in there, but it still feels like there are perhaps gaps in terms of creativity and innovation (as a disclaimer, I have not read the actual report, only discussion of it). Having said that, it is quite a different list from the one that would have been produced twenty years before this report was written. I wonder what skills we will think children need to learn for 'the workplace' in another twenty years.

(As a postscript, the QLD DEST publication 'Enterprise Education in Primary Schools' also catalogues eighteen attributes that more effectively cover creativity, initiative, negotiation, stress etc. – things I would think take a more progressive angle on the way 'employment' is evolving.)